Virginia Institute on Cooperative Education

Virginia Institute on Cooperative Education (VICE)

Each spring, VCC sponsors the Virginia Institute on Cooperative Education, a youth leadership conference for high school youth. It’s primary objective is to educate youth about the cooperative form of business through interactive instruction that includes a live business simulation, “Who’s Minding the Store?” Students enhance their teamwork, leadership, and communication skills, with top performers having the opportunity to receive up to $2,000 in educational scholarships.

Graves Mountain Lodge hosts the annual VICE conference. Students participate in team competition to run cooperative businesses. In doing so, they learn how to making marketing and financial decisions and interpret the results of their decisions through operating statements and financial reports. Participants also enjoy organized games and activities and delicous meals.

Before arriving at the conference
After submitting their application, students are required to visit the sponsoring cooperative business and complete an interview form to learn more about the size and operation of this cooperative in their community. Participants are emailed information about cooperatives to review prior to the conference, and will be tested on this information.

Day One
Activities begin with an overview and interactive icebreakers to help  students learn more about each other. The opening session details the history and importance of cooperatives and how they differ from other forms of business. Students are then divided into groups to learn about the four main types of cooperative businesses: supply, marketing, electric, and credit, before being tested on the information that has been presented to them.

Day Two 
Activities center on small work groups. Students are  presented with basic business concepts and allowed to make a first set of management decisions through a computer-based business simulation game, “Who’s Minding the Store.” Each group represents a separate co-op business, and each makes pricing, inventory, advertising, credit, and personnel decisions to attempt to increase their co-op’s net worth in a competitive market setting.

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 quarters (one year) of 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. Throughout this decision- making and role-play, participants develop and are evaluated on their leadership, teamwork and communication skills.

On the final day
Students take a final test and adult team leaders provide assessment on each participant’s participation throughout the conference. All of the weekend’s test and participation scores are tabulated. The conference culminates in an awards luncheon. Attendees receive a certificate of participation and top participants are announced, with the top three earning scholarships and the top ten an expense-paid trip to the Georgia Cooperative Leadership Conference in mid-July.

VICE evaluations consistently indicate that students find the conference to be both educational and fun. They often write that they came to the conference knowing nothing about co-ops and leave with an understanding and appreciation of this unique business form. They also provide positive feedback on the opportunity to make new friends and enjoy great food in a scenic rural setting. For the past few years, 100% of participants have indicated they would recommend VICE to a friend.