First-Year Academic Community

Make the most of your first year at George Mason University with the Schar School of Policy and Government's learning community, "the Democracy Lab." You'll live and learn alongside peers with similar interests in politics, policy, and the workings of government.

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A Powerful First Year at Mason
Photo of 3 students outside the congressional office

A Community of Change-Makers

The Democracy Lab is open to all first-year Mason undergraduate students living on campus. Through the learning community, you will engage with the issues that define the journey of democracy in the United States and around the world—everything from the civic implications of big data to the growing impact of disinformation. Plus, you'll build a strong network of students, professors, mentors, and advisors that will stay with you throughout your time at Mason and long after you graduate.

This community is supported in partnership with Mason's Housing & Residence Life and students apply for the Democracy Lab through their housing application.

Transformational Experiences

Students benefit from a wide range of experiences designed to expand their skill sets and perspectives.

  • Taking GOVT 101 with other community members
  • Engaging with guest speakers, including community activists, policymakers, journalists, and subject matter experts
  • Participating in facilitated coffee-house discussions around current events
  • Taking skills workshops on data literacy and visualization, technologies for democracy (“liberation technology”), and effective online and social media communication for policy and government
  • Tackling an individual student project in the form of a policy studio or digital essay
  • Going on a capstone field trip to a government agency or major think tank in Washington, D.C.

Spring 2022 Democracy Lab Events

Democracy Lab students in face masks pose for the camera at a fall event.

Welcome Back Dinner, January 25: Democracy Lab students and Schar School faculty reconnected after the break to share plans for the spring semester and enjoy free food.

Toward a More Inclusive Schar School, February 15: As co-chairs of the committee responsible for implementing the Schar School's Inclusive Excellence Plan (IEP), Professors Listokin and Thatchenkery listened to input and ideas on how to improve diversity and address racism on our campus from Democracy Lab Students.

The Ukraine-Russia Crisis: Schar Faculty Insights, March 8: The Schar School learning communities and the Schar School's Center for Security Policy Studies hosted a faculty-led panel discussion regarding the Ukraine-Russia Crisis. 

Face-to-Face with Facebook, March 22: A Democracy Lab discussion about how social media platforms are approaching the challenge of disinformation, intolerance, and extremist content. Facebook's Shaarik Zafar fielded tough questions from students about the role and responsibility of Facebook in dealing with this huge issue.

Field Trip to Washington D.C, April 2: Democracy Lab students will take a trip to the nation's capital to explore where policymaking happens. 

Immigration and Democracy in America, April 13: A coffee-house discussion with Schar School faculty member and immigration expert Justin Gest.

Fall 2022 Events (More to come!)

A Conversation with Alexander Heffner, November 7: Alexander Heffner, host of The Open Mind on PBS, will discuss the midterm elections with Democracy Lab students

“Being from Illinois and being the first student from my high school to go to George Mason, I knew that I was going to have to make new friends, and especially given the COVID situation, I was a bit nervous about it. But being in the Schar School Learning Community gave me a group of people right away who shared my interests and with whom I could easily bond. Each Friday, we do an activity called “That’s News to Me,” where we discuss some of the news from the past week. We have had so many great conversations about different political topics, fun facts about D.C., different cultures, and just general conversations about life.”

— Ethan Thomas
BA, Government and International Politics
Schar School of Policy and Government student standing in front of the Capitol
Photo of Schar School Professor, Jennifer N. Victor

Meet the Schar School First-Year Academic Community Director

Jennifer N. Victor

For any questions or to learn more, contact: