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Virginian Named Outstanding Youth Scholar at the 2004 National Institute on Cooperative Education

Farm Business Management Update, October/November 2004

By Dixie Watts Reaves, Virginia Tech, Department of Agricultural & Applied Economics, Associate Professor

Virginia Tech was the host location for the 76th National Institute on Cooperative Education (NICE). NICE, a four-day educational youth conference focusing on the cooperative form of business, celebrated the theme, Cultivating Tomorrow's Cooperative Leaders. Seventy-two student participants from 11 states across the country vied for market share in a cooperative business simulation, participated in a case study contest, created and operated a student-run cooperative, and learned from cooperative business leaders and agricultural educators from many localities in the United States. In addition to the student participants, more than 30 team leaders and chaperones were in attendance.

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), Becky Hilburn (NC), Hugh Harris (VA), Karen Kuhn (SD), Marie Stiles (SC), and Vicki Lantz (PA). Jeremy Rowe of Virginia and Jodi Marshall of Wisconsin were chosen as this year's Outstanding Youth Scholars. Along with the other six finalists (Sarah Barlow, VA; Meghan Evans, NC ; Tiffany Morgan, PA; Josh Duley, WI ; Keith Frey, PA; and Logan Wilson, KY), these scholars will be invited to serve as team leaders for the 2005 NICE conference in Kentucky. Jeremy and Jodi will also serve on the planning committee for next year's conference.

The conference ran from Sunday afternoon through lunch on Wednesday, with participants enjoying the lodging and dining experience of the scenic Virginia Tech campus. Sunday began with ice breaker and teambuilding activities where the youth scholars had an opportunity to mingle and to compete in relay-style events. The states represented at the conference included Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin. In a leadership development session on Monday, Judith Jones 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 and retail store in Christiansburg, a pizza party, and a night of competition and socializing at the Squires Student Center Rec Zone, where participants competed in bowling, billiards, and ping pong.

For most of the conference, participants were divided into nine teams, where they worked together in a number of events. Teams were supported by team leaders, including youth who had participated in the conference in the past and individuals from industry, government, or education. Team leaders were Janice Keeley (OR) and Adam Holcomb (KS), the 2003 Outstanding Youth Scholars, Michelle Rudolph (WI), Jessica Jones (VA), Corey Ruff (AR), Adam Hatton (VA), Brad Phillips (KY), Ken Ryan (VA), Johnny Davis (VA), Victor Noble (OR), Brian Wolfe (VA), Lem Metzler (PA), Craig Scroggs (GA), Brian Morris (VA), and Sherisa Brammer (PA).

In the STUCO component of the conference (the student-run cooperative), each team formed its own cooperative, with member-owners paying a membership fee and electing 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 excess 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. The nine teams donated a total of $340.

Teams also participated in a case study competition. 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 Dixie Watts Reaves of Virginia Tech's Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics. The nine teams were divided into three market areas of three teams each where 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 a two-month period of operation. Over the course of the conference, the teams made five business decisions, and each and every team increased its overall net worth.

The Outstanding Youth Scholars, Jeremy and Jodi, were announced at the Tuesday night banquet. At the conclusion of the banquet, Craig Scroggs (GA) presented a music-enhanced powerpoint slide show of the conference. Participants concluded the evening with a student party, including a D.J. and karaoke.

Each participant, both youth and adult, received a conference t-shirt and a copy of the powerpoint slide show, burned on a CD and delivered in a souvenir NICE CD case. Additionally, teams won prizes for top finishes in the business simulation, the case study, and STUCO.

All in all, it was a fun-filled and information-packed four-day conference. The NICE conference, historically held on university campuses, has its roots in the American Institute on Cooperation (AIC). 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, Reaves volunteered to host the youth component of the conference on the Virginia Tech campus in 2003. Following that conference, she was asked to host again in 2004.

Evaluations by both the youth scholars and the state counselors and chaperones deemed the 2004 conference a success. All the respondents indicated that they would recommend the conference to a friend or to another state delegation. Sponsors of the successful 2004 conference were the Virginia Council of Farmer Cooperatives, CHS Foundation, the NCFC Education Foundation, Growmark Inc., Southern States Cooperative, Dairy Farmers of America, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative, Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, and Graves Mountain Lodge and Farms. 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.

The Holiday Inn--Select, Southside Kentucky will be the host site for NICE in 2005. 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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