Education entrepreneurs seek funding for web mentoring program

March 2, 2011

In the world we live in competitions can only have one of two outcomes, you either win or you lose. More than likely we have all been a part of the loosing train at one point or another. The question is, how long will it take for you to get off that train and on to a better one.

For Stephanie Garcia and Tracy Geiger, two graduate students at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, the trip was less than 24 hours. Download Full Image

Garcia and Geiger are the two masterminds behind the idea of the Mobile Mentor Program, an interactive networking site geared to students who don’t believe that college is for them.

“Its conceptualized as an E-mentoring program so secondary students or students who are in either middle school or in high school will end up connecting with current college students and those college students will serve as their mentor,” said Geiger.

Secondary students will have the opportunity to learn what college is really about, why it is important and then they will be connected to a current college student who will sustain excitement for college. Having the program based online allows time and travel constraints to disappear.

The idea stemmed from the well below average graduation rates of high school and college seniors. Garcia and Geiger soon found that their idea had potential when they became one of 30 finalists from over 150 teams at ASU’s Innovation Challenge.

“It was a big shock for us that we even made it past the first round,” said Garcia.

The second round of eliminations arrived with Garcia and Geiger as the first team of the day to compete. With no one to watch as an example the tag team found themselves relying on practice and luck.

However, it was here that the Mobile Mentor Program lost.

“We get disappointed but not discouraged,” said Garcia. She believes that they have planted the seed for their program and already they are receiving great responses from the community.

The two are unsure on the next type of funding opportunity they will pursue whether it be through ASU, nationally or both.  What they do know, is that the program will be moving forward.

With a competition dominated by engineers, businessmen and scientists, the defeat could have been the end of the Mobile Mentor Program.  Ironically, it ended up being a blessing in disguise.

Garcia and Geiger did not allow one door closing to hinder something they are so passionate about. The opportunity in itself was an accomplishment nonetheless.

“So we failed,” said Garcia, “we will get back on the horse and we’re gonna try again.”

Clarissa Tapia
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ASU News intern

Temple Grandin impresses ASU professors with master's study

March 2, 2011

Autistic animal science expert speaks on ‘what makes us human’

Temple Grandin was dressed like a cowboy when she first knocked on Foster Burton’s office door at Arizona State University in the early 1970s to talk about an unusual transdisciplinary master’s thesis topic. Burton, a professor who taught construction classes, just got off a phone call with an assistant dean who asked if he would take on a “very bright” graduate student from the agriculture division. Temple Grandin at Arizona State University Download Full Image

“I was trying to think of a way to get out of this assignment when she knocked on my door and asked to come in," Burton recalled. "After 15 minutes I recognized that Temple was smarter than I was and I agreed to chair her thesis committee.

“Temple wanted to study the behavior of different breeds of cattle and their injuries (on feed lots). She had new ideas and different approaches. I did very little – just ran interference sometimes and made sure stick-in-the-muds didn’t get in her way. Temple took care of the rest.”

According to Burton, now an ASU emeritus professor, “Temple is one of the brightest people I’ve ever met. She was a focused person – very bright, very direct.”

Grandin received a master’s degree in animal science from ASU in 1975 for a thesis titled “Survey of behavioral and physical events which occur in hydraulic restraining chutes for cattle.” The 72-page thesis, which includes a number of diagrams, sits on a shelf in the library at the Polytechnic campus, where the agribusiness program now is located.

Michael Nielsen, another member of the thesis committee, accompanied Grandin to local feed yards during her study.

“Temple recruited me from the industrial design program for my input about the design aspects of her thesis,” he said. “I spent time with her as an adviser and as an associate. Temple made a major impression upon me. I have not had a student that exhibited more insight, enthusiasm and tenacity in their studies. She was, and remains, a thoughtful and diligent person and a remarkable individual.

“It was years later that I learned of her autism, and quite frankly, I found it difficult to believe," added Nielsen, now an ASU emeritus professor.

Rounding out her thesis committee was the late Robert D. Rasmussen, who was a professor of animal science, and Stanley R. Parkinson, who taught psychology and is an ASU emeritus professor.

Discovering cows ‘on campus’

“I was originally a psychology major at ASU,” said Grandin, who has an undergraduate degree in psychology from Franklin Pierce College in New Hampshire. But it was at ASU that Grandin, who rode horses as a child, discovered the field of animal science.

“My thesis was a survey of animal behavior," she said. "I kept track of how many cattle fell down, how many refused to enter the chute."

“I knew veterinary science existed at colleges – dogs and cats,” said Grandin, but didn’t know there also were university programs to study cows. Grandin went on to earn a doctoral degree in animal science from the University of Illinois. She now teaches courses on livestock behavior and facility design as a professor at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, where she oversees several graduate students.

Livestock facilities that Grandin has designed dot locations in the United States, Canada, Europe, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand. In North America, according to Grandin’s website, almost half of the cattle are handled in a center track restrainer system that she designed for meat plants. When not designing, Grandin consults with the livestock industry on livestock handling and animal welfare, in addition to facility design.

Named by Time magazine in 2010 as one of the 100 most influential people, Grandin has written more than 400 articles that appeared in scientific and livestock periodicals. She is the author of “Thinking in Pictures,” “Livestock Handling and Transport,” “Genetics and the Behavior of Domestic Animals,” and “Humane Livestock Handling.” Her books “Animals in Translation” and “Animals Make Us Human” were on the New York Times bestseller list.

Autism clues

Grandin, who was diagnosed with autism when she was 2 years old, is the subject of an Emmy-award-winning film starring Claire Danes. Recognized as an autism advocate, Grandin spends much of her time traveling and speaking on the topic, and she often is asked by parents of autistic children for advice.

Her answers hinge on the age of the child and the degree of autism. For 2- and 3-year-olds who are nonverbal, Grandin said: “The worst thing you could do is nothing. Keep them engaged with the world.”

For children who are a little older, Grandin said: “Build up the kid’s area of strength, whether it’s art skills or math skills. When you have a kid who is nonverbal, don’t get too hung up on labels, autism, Asperger’s. Work on building up the kid’s area of strength. If the kid is a good artist, let’s figure out how to use those skills.”

“I am appalled at the education system taking out all the hands-on classes – welding, auto shop, art, sewing," Grandin said. "Those are the things a kid can really excel at. If I hadn’t had those classes when I was in elementary and high school, it would have been horrible. Those classes saved me.

“Autism is a very, very big spectrum that goes from nonverbal with a lot of handicaps to the genius in Silicon Valley. It’s a true continuum."

“We know that Temple believes deeply in the wonders of science, especially its importance in awakening and focusing her intellect toward her pioneering life’s work,” said ASU Regents’ Professor Sally Kitch, director of the Institute for Humanities Research in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“Science was the arena in which Temple’s form of autism became an advantage, rather than a disability,” Kitch said. “We see her genius as a metaphor for understanding the varieties of mind human beings can have, as opening the conversation about other types of human minds, and expanding our idea of what it means to be human.”

Grandin presented the institute’s 2011 Distinguished Lecture March 1, in Galvin Playhouse on ASU’s Tempe campus. The title of her talk was “What Makes us Human? Visual Thinking and Different Kinds of Minds.”

There was a live webcast of the lecture:">">