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 Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Virginia Tech Hosts the National Institute on Cooperative Education

Farm Business Management Update, August/September 2003

By Dixie Watts Reaves

Virginia Tech was the host site for the 75th annual National Institute on Cooperative Education (NICE), the largest youth conference in the country that is dedicated to educating its attendees about the cooperative form of business. Eighty students and their state counselors and chaperones from around the country were on the Virginia Tech campus from July 27-30, participating in activities about cooperatives and enhancing their business management skills in a fun and educational environment.

The 2003 Diamond Anniversary NICE centered around the theme Cooperatives-A Gem of a Deal. Attendees participated in a wide array of cooperative activities. Sunday began with ice breaker and teambuilding activities where the youth scholars from ten states had an opportunity to mingle and to compete in relay-style events. The states represented at the conference included Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin. In a leadership development session on Monday, Judith Jones, assisted by Sheila Norman, presented insights into leadership styles utilizing the Myers-Briggs type indicator (MBTI). All participants had an opportunity to complete the MBTI test instrument and to learn how knowledge about different personality types can assist them in being better leaders and team members. Other activities on Monday included a tour of the Southern States distribution warehouse in Troutville, a Southern-style barbeque prepared by Albert and T.J. Watts of Rockbrook Farm (Keysville, Va.), and a night of relaxation and socializing at the Salem Avalanche minor league baseball game.

For most of the conference, participants were divided into nine teams where they worked together in a number of events. Each team was supported by a team leader, a youth who has participated in the conference in the past, and an assistant team leader, someone from industry, government, or education. Team leaders were Shane Delawder (Va.), Emily Grove (Pa.), Andrew Herr (Pa.), Amy Kneer (Md.), Meg Kyger (Va.), Anthony Seymore (Pa.), Aaron Shelor (Va.), Rachel Swortzel (Va.), and Luke Van Vuren (N.C.), Jim Barnett (Pa.), Stephanie Chick (Va.), Roger Garrett (Va.), Joe Jackson (Tn.), Wynn Mayfield (Or.), Lehman Metzler (Pa.), Craig Scroggs (Ga.), Jim Wadsworth (D.C.), and Brian Wolfe (Va.) served as assistant team leaders.

In the student-run cooperative (STUCO) component of the conference, each team formed its own cooperative. Member-owners paid a membership fee and elected a general manager. The cooperative could then buy items at wholesale from the cooperative distribution warehouse and either resell to its members or market its goods to non-members (participants from other teams and/or leaders and chaperones). Since a cooperative's main goal is not to make a profit, but rather to meet the needs of its members, students were able to obtain quality products at a much lower price than was available to them through normal retail channels. When cooperatives do make a profit, those dollars are distributed back to members on the basis of patronage, the amount of business that they conduct with the cooperative. Therefore, at the close of the conference, all cooperative teams were able to refund their members' initial membership fee and distribute their profits. While some teams divided a portion of that profit among the members, each and every team made a contribution to a scholarship fund created for next year's NICE conference. In total, the nine cooperative teams donated over $300 to the scholarship fund.

Teams also participated in a case study competition. Each of the nine teams was provided with two cooperative cases for analysis. Each team divided itself into two groups, with one group assessing each case. Groups were responsible for summarizing the situation, stating the problem, developing alternatives to solve the problem, assessing each alternative, choosing a course of action, and laying out an implementation plan for that action. Drs. Lionel Williamson and Patsy Whitehead from Kentucky judged the cases and moderated a session where the winning teams presented their assessment.

One of the primary activities of the conference was the business simulation conducted by Danny Adams of Southern States Cooperative. The nine teams were divided into three market areas of three teams each. They competed for market share and net worth. By making decisions about pricing, inventory, personnel, advertising, and borrowing, co-op teams had varying degrees of success in meeting the needs of their customers and increasing their net worth. The simulation allowed students to act as if they were the management team for their cooperative, making business decisions for two-month periods of operation. Over the course of the conference, the teams made four business decisions, and each team increased its overall net worth.

One of the highlights of the conference was the selection of the Outstanding Youth Scholars. Each state was given the opportunity to nominate one male and one female candidate for the contest. The students were judged on their written application (focusing on exhibited leadership skills and cooperative knowledge) and their interview before a panel of judges: Martha Arterburn (Ky.), David Erickson (Wi.), Diane Gruver (Ks.), Becky Hilburn (N.C.), Karen Kuhn (S.D.), and Bill Lantz (Pa.). Through the preliminary rounds, the judges chose four female and four male finalists: Lori Andrews (Ar.), Janice Keeley (Or.), Sarah Leonard (Va.), Michelle Rudolph (Wi.), Corey Davis (Ar.), Brian Nailor (Pa.), Daniel Nead (N.C.), and Adam Wolking (Ks.). During the Tuesday evening banquet, the 2003 Outstanding Youth Scholars and first runner-ups were announced. The first runner-ups, Lori Andrews and Daniel Nead, will serve if the winners are unable to complete their duties in the upcoming year. Janice Keeley and Adam Wolking were chosen as the 2003 Outstanding Youth Scholars. Adam and Janice will serve on the planning committee for next year's NICE conference and will participate as co-hosts of the 2004 event. Following the banquet and the announcement of the 2003 Outstanding Youth Scholars, participants enjoyed a student party with a D.J. and karaoke. Students from the 2003 Governor's School for Agriculture stopped by to socialize with the NICE youth scholars during the student party.

All in all, it was a fun-filled and information-packed four-day conference. The NICE conference has its roots in the American Institute on Cooperation (AIC), which was historically held on university campuses. Over time, the conference grew, changed its name to NICE, and was supported by the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives as one of its many educational conferences throughout the year. In addition to the youth scholar component, NICE has historically included a young cooperator element (young farmers), an education professional piece, and a general adult segment (cooperative CEO's, managers and employees). During the 2002 NICE conference in Chicago, NCFC announced its decision to discontinue NICE and to concentrate its educational efforts in other areas. A number of state cooperative councils indicated the desire to continue the youth component of NICE. At that time, Dixie Watts Reaves volunteered to host the youth component of the conference on the Virginia Tech campus in 2003.

Evaluations by the youth scholars, the state counselors, and chaperones deemed the 2003 conference a success. Respondents unanimously agreed that they would recommend the conference to a friend or to another state delegation. Sponsors of the successful 2003 conference included the Virginia Council of Farmer Cooperatives, CHS Cooperatives, the NCFC Education Foundation, Southern States Cooperative, Dairy Farmers of America, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, and Graves Mountain Lodge and Farms. Prizes were donated by Nationwide Insurance, Land O' Lakes, and the Virginia Tech Alumni Association. Space and photocopying access was provided by the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, the University Honors Program, and the Center for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

Virginia Tech has been asked to consider hosting the conference again in 2004. Any individuals or cooperative businesses that would like to be involved in future National Institutes on Cooperative Education should contact Dixie Reaves (, 540-231-6153).

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