NICE - National Institute on Cooperative Education
The Virginia Cooperative Council (VCC) sponsors up to eight outstanding Virginia youth to attend the National Institute on Cooperative Education (NICE) Youth Conference each year. The VCC youth delegates to this conference are selected because of their achievements in VCC’s VICE Conference, held each year in early April. The VCC VICE youth delegates generally are the top performers in state 4-H and FFA programs, but are not limited to those programs. VICE accepts any qualified youth from across the state.
For nearly three-quarters of a century, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives (NCFC) offered the National Institute on Cooperative Education (NICE), or its predecessor, the American Institute of Cooperation (AIC), as one of its educational conferences on cooperatives. In August of 2002, NCFC made the decision to streamline its educational opportunities in order to provide a better return on member investments of both time and money.
During the 2002 NICE, the last NCFC-sponsored youth event, a number of state delegations met to express interest in the continuation of the youth component of NICE. A decision was made to host the 2003 Diamond Anniversary NICE on the Virginia Tech campus, and to seek to rotate the conference to different universities in future years. This was actually a return to the model of the original AIC when the conference was hosted on university campuses. Since the conference is now focused solely on youth education, the return to the campus setting seems appropriate. Following the 2003 Diamond Anniversary Conference, participants decided to return to Virginia Tech for the 2004 conference with future conferences rotating to other venues in other states. Most recently, the conference was held at Purdue University (2011), and the University of Tennessee (2009 and 2010). The NICE conference returned to Virginia Tech in 2012 thru 2016. The conference will be located at the University of Kentucky in 2017.
The conference is intended to provide a deeper understanding of cooperatives to the youth participants who are the cooperative members, customers, employees, directors, and leaders of tomorrow. Participants will gain an understanding of how cooperatives differ from other business forms and will hear cooperative success stories in both the agricultural and non-agricultural sectors. In a team setting, attendees will serve as managers of a simulated cooperative store, competing with other stores in their market area for sales and profit. Teams will also analyze case studies, develop their own student-run cooperative, and participate in team-building and leadership development activities. The closing session will recognize the teams that have been the top performers in various conference activities. The Youth Scholar Program provides both educational and social activities.
NICE Program Objectives
Each spring, the Virginia Cooperative Council (VCC) sponsors an Institute on Cooperative Education, a youth leadership conference for up to 64 Virginia high school youth. The primary objective of this conference is to educate youth about the unique cooperative form of business. Through an interactive, educational, and entertaining conference, students will enhance their teamwork, leadership, and communication skills.
Before arriving at the conference, youth participants are required to visit the sponsoring cooperative business and complete an interview form. This allows them to learn about the size and operation of a cooperative in their community. Participants are also provided with a booklet on cooperatives, which they are asked to read prior to the conference
Day one activities begin with an overview of the conference and its format. Since many of the weekend’s activities are interactive, icebreakers are utilized to help the students learn more about each other. They then attend an opening session on the history and importance of cooperatives and how cooperatives differ from other forms of business. Following the introductory overview, students are divided into four groups to learn about different types of cooperative businesses: supply, marketing, electric, and credit. At one point during the day, students are quizzed on the information that has been presented to them.
Day two and three activities center on small work groups. Participants are put in the position of managing their own cooperative business through their participation in a computer-based business simulation game titled “Who’s Minding the Store.” Each group represents a separate co-op business, each attempting to make pricing, inventory, advertising, credit, and personnel decisions to increase their co-op’s net worth in a competitive market setting. Students are first presented with basic business concepts and are then allowed to make their first set of management decisions.
When the results of their decisions are returned, they learn how to interpret the results and how to adjust their decision-making to yield more desirable results. In addition, they learn how to read balance sheets and income statements, and how to use values from the statements to calculate ratios that indicate the financial well being of the business. At least four management decisions, representing four quarterly decisions, are made during the conference. Participants are also placed in role-play situations where they can act out responses to personnel issues within the business. Through their decision- making and role-play, participants have opportunities to enhance their leadership and teamwork skills, and to improve communication skills.
On the final day, students take their second quiz, covering the material learned during days two and three. Adult team leaders provide assessment on each participant’s participation throughout the conference. All of the weekend’s scores are tabulated, leading to the conference culmination, an awards luncheon. All attendees are provided with a certificate of participation and the overall winners are announced. A final wrap-up session summarizes the conference’s activities and reemphasizes important lessons learned.
Conference evaluations consistently indicate that students find the conference to be both educational and fun. They often state that they came to the conference knowing nothing about the cooperative way of doing business and leave with an understanding and appreciation of this unique business form. They also provide positive feedback on the opportunity to meet new people, enjoy fine food, and visit a scenic rural setting. For the past few years, one hundred percent of participants have indicated they would recommend the conference to a friend.
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