May 30, 2006

Cooperative Youth Conference set for June 8-9

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Last year they all wanted the inflatable cow.

"You saw people pooling their Co-op Cash to buy it and take it back home to their FFA chapter," said Lucas D. Maxwell, coordinator of recruitment and retention for Southern Illinois University Carbondale's College of Agricultural Sciences.

The cow was just one of many items available at the auction that closed out the 2005 annual Southern Illinois Cooperative Youth Conference, jointly sponsored by the college and the Illinois Cooperative Council.

Seventy-eight students from 28 counties will participate in this year's event, set for June 8-9.

Media Advisory

Reporters may cover the live auction that traditionally serves as the capstone for the Southern Illinois Cooperative Youth Conference. It takes place at 12:30 p.m. in Room 209 of the Agriculture Building on the SIUC campus.

"Our numbers are phenomenal," Maxwell said.

"We have close to 30 students more than we had last year, and they're coming from all over the place,"

Free to high school juniors and seniors because of co-op sponsorships, the conference blends workshops about the cooperative way of doing business with social mixers and activities aimed at introducing the students to SIUC.

"It's a way for us to do some outreach with some of our industry clientele while letting high school students come down to experience college life," Maxwell said.

"We also have six students in the college — all current or former agbassadors — who are serving as counselors and group leaders. They'll stay in the residence halls with the students."

After morning registration and introductory remarks, this year's campers will be assigned to teams and play some group-building games.

"That forces them to meet other people rather than sticking in their comfort zone with the students they traveled down here with," Maxwell said.

While the conference includes a little old-school instruction, campers will spend most of their working time on applying what they've learned to a co-op run by "Saluki Sam," with locations in Dogtown and Maroonville.

"The conference has evolved from when it started in its approach to getting the information to the students —it's much more interactive" Maxwell said.

"This model is based on one used in college classrooms. When I first saw it, I thought, ‘This is way too much,' but the students dived into it. They came up with some good ideas to make the co-op more profitable."

Throughout the conference, campers get paid in "Co-op Cash" for participating in the various events. After lunch on the closing day, students use that cash to bid on donated items.

Will there be another inflatable cow this year?

"Wait and see," Maxwell said with a grin.

Reaching out is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint the University is following as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.