The meeting now known as the Southeastern Regional Cooperative Education Conference (SERCEC) began with a discussion between John Cain of Auburn, Ed Finnell of Alabama, Bill Wheeler of Southern Bell/Birmingham, and Jim Wohlford of Georgia Tech, while attending the 1965 Mid-Winter CED meeting at the University of Cincinnati. They were concerned that few if any Southern employers attended national co-op conferences and that most of those who did represented a corporate headquarters or other unit removed from actual participation in co-op selection and supervision.
Through Wheeler's influence, Southern Bell hosted a planning session for an informal conference targeted at co-op employers of the South, and supplied the start-up financing for the first meeting, which was held in Birmingham. The response was so positive that a second meeting, sponsored by Georgia Tech and Auburn, was held at Callaway Gardens, Georgia, the following year. The charter group thought that the second year would probably be the last that employers would wish to have for some time. Within two or three weeks of the Callaway Gardens meeting, however, Bill Wheeler was back in touch, responding to prompts from other employers, with the plea - keep it going!
During the early years various institutions agreed in turn to serve as hosts: one early conference was at Virginia Tech; another in Biloxi hosted by Mississippi State; UT Knoxville held the "Sixth Annual", as numbering began; and with the recognition that the effort would continue, seed money was passed from the last host to the next in an informal but workable cooperation. Early seed funds ranged from about $300 to $800; in later years $1500 to $2000 was considered a good target for initial printing and other arrangements. When the fund grew much larger, an "old hand" would usually advise the next host to begin returning excess funds to the conferees via reduced fees or extra free activities the next year. This practice continues to be the policy of the conference.
According to Jim Wohlford, an early criticism, when it became obvious that the conference would continue, was that the lack of permanent structure would encourage "someone to take over." Rather than that, the informality was treasured and regarded as a unique attraction of SERCEC. Those who would never have committed themselves to membership in an additional professional organization attended the SERCEC either regularly or as it rotated into their geographic area, often choosing it in preference to the less personalized national conferences of formal organizations.
The original emphasis on employer concerns underwent a considerable revision with the expansion of co-op programs in institutions via Federal funding. Schools just entering the co-op endeavor soon found that the SERCEC was a prime place to meet employers, to the point that for a few years employers felt somewhat besieged, and their attendance waned. During recent years however, a good balance appears to have been restored and the attendance has begun to equalize again. Probably it is well, however, not to lose sight of the original purpose, and the original need - to give representatives of employing facilities an opportunity to get together and share mutual problems and insights, as well as to meet with their academic counterparts - since it is often the representative of employing facilities who tend not to participate regularly in national co-op organizations, and who often feel somewhat inundated by the mound of specifically institutional concerns when they do attend.
In 1986, a need was recognized to provide guidelines for passing along the dual responsibilities of hosting and financing future SERCECs. The number of potential sponsors has increased significantly, and hosting is no longer just an obligation assumed in turn by various schools but often is an honor to a particular state or organization. Pre-conference activities and responsibilities have multiplied as organizations and conferences in general have become more complex. There exists, however, a strong commitment by many traditional attendees to retain the original character of the early conferences by remaining free of permanent executive structure of "membership" activities in the usual sense. The Operating Guidelines were developed to address problems that have been perceived, while trying to maintain the unique nature, and stature of the SERCEC.