The Schar School of Policy and Government instituted three new “learning communities” for its undergraduate students for the fall of 2021: the Democracy Lab, the Undergraduate Research Community, and the International Relations Policy Task Force. In late August, the Democracy Lab students, who will share experiences on- and off campus, heard George Mason University President Gregory Washington deliver a stirring inaugural address on racial justice. Also in August, all three communities participated in a whimsical-if-competitive scavenger hunt.
Schar School students, many of them in their first year at Mason, were split into nine teams and given clues that sent them all around Mason’s Fairfax campus to complete different tasks. The clues guided students to fun, but also important, places on campus.
Students learned their way around campus and discovered some of the many resources available to them at Mason and the Schar School. They learned what the oldest buildings on campus are as well as where the newest one is; they learned where to find Mason’s president’s office (he wasn’t in), the library, the bookstore, and the writing center.
Students also discovered where they can go to find academic advisors, professors, or anyone in the Schar School who can provide answers to their questions. Some of the faculty were at the event to introduce themselves to the students—including learning communities faculty directors Peter Mandaville, Eric McGlinchey, and Heba El-Shazli—with the idea of making students more comfortable and therefore more likely to engage with and utilize their support team.
“The event was a great way to meet professors and students in Schar School in an informal way,” one sophomore participant commented. “I got to make friends with people that I have classes with but would not have been confident in speaking to them. My overall take away from the event was the importance of community and group members. The fact that we were divided into groups made the event more fun.”
One of the biggest appeals of learning communities is the genuine community students build and the relationships formed with other students and faculty. The scavenger hunt kick-off was a good way to introduce students to the community as an initial step to becoming closer and to bolster success.