Co-op News

Forward-thinking student program

By Miguel Rios August 2023

Local co-op gives college students a voice in the boardroom

Board advisory collegiate delegates prepare feedback for the TCEC members

Tri-County Electric Cooperative (TCEC) is connecting with a younger generation and offering college students an opportunity to make an impact in their co-op community. Through their Board Advisory Collegiate Delegate Program, students from Oklahoma Panhandle State University (OPSU) can participate in TCEC board meetings and give feedback to board members.

The program started in 2021 and has already had two cohorts of collegiate delegates, with a third group set to attend their first board meeting in September. Zac Perkins, TCEC CEO, says one of their strategic goals is to continually improve member engagement and expand their outreach.

“Being able to engage with a younger demographic has always been difficult for us, but we’re fortunate that we serve a local, four-year institution,” he says. “Delegates get to be introduced to the co-op, to their directors, and they get to learn a bit about our business environment and the complexities of the co-op.”

College students apply online and complete a series of interviews. Once selected as a delegate, they serve from August to April and must attend every board meeting if possible. Delegates receive a stipend after each meeting they attend, and they are eligible for a scholarship for one full semester’s tuition reimbursement.

TCEC’s program is based on a similar one for high school students from an Ohio co-op, but there are no others like it in the state – yet. Perkins says TCEC has already received inquiries from co-ops, local and nationwide, that are interested in replicating the program.

Past delegates: (from left) Julie Johnson, Catarina tum Garcia and Jesus Mesta

“I bet we’ve sent out our plans to probably half a dozen co-ops in the last couple years,” he says. “It’s been a really good way to engage a level of demographics that likely will be our members at some point if they’re not our members already.”

Richard Radcliff, TCEC board president, says he is encouraged by how well the program has gone so far. He hopes students who participate can better understand the co-op model and help spread the knowledge.

“People begin to get disconnected from co-ops. They just think of it as an electric company and don’t realize that they’re part of the ownership as members,” he says. “If we can get some younger people to understand that, it might help. It’s been a really good program, and I really think that every co-op ought to look into if they’ve got a local college where it’s feasible for people to travel to the board meetings.”

Carlos Flores, an OPSU student majoring in business management and business finance, is a former delegate. In fact, he enjoyed the program so much that he actually applied multiple times and was selected twice. He says the stipend and scholarship made a “world of difference” for his college career. The program increased his knowledge of electric co-ops, while providing the opportunity to develop professional skills.

“Being able to impact communities by holding a board seat can mean a world of difference in a rural area like ours,” he says. “I learned about community involvement and how to take initiative, as well as how the electric grid works.”

Though collegiate delegates don’t have governing authority, they serve as an advisory board with the ability to ask questions and make suggestions about ways the co-op can improve, particularly when it comes to member engagement.

“I’m bilingual and am involved in the Hispanic community,” he says. “One of my suggestions was publishing our newsletter in both English and Spanish, and we were able to make that happen within a few months. That’s an impact that I got to make even though I didn’t have voting authority.”

Perkins encourages college students to apply for the program because of the valuable skills they can learn.

“Co-op business models aren’t taught in any business class I’ve ever been in,” he says. “Hopefully, we’re growing advocates as well as men and women who want to serve on the cooperative board at some point in the future.”

Applications for the program typically open in the spring. Visit for more information.

Category: Co-op News

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