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." This academic community is an immersive environment that will broaden your perspective and hone your ability to engage on difficult topics—everything from the civic implications of big data to the growing impact of disinformation.

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Strengthen Your Connections
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A Community of Change-Makers

In partnership with Mason's Housing & Residence Life, the Schar School's academic and learning community, "the Democracy Lab," is a learning experience 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. 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.

A Memorable Year

Students will benefit from a wide-range of experiences designed to expand their skillsets and perspectives.

  • Sharing a common course, GOVT 101, with other community members

  • Guest speakers, including community activists, policymakers, journalists, and subject matter experts

  • Facilitated coffee-house discussions around current events related to democracy

  • Skills workshops on data literacy and visualization, technologies for democracy (“liberation technology”), and effective online and social media communication for policy and government

  • An individual student project in the form of a policy studio or digital essay

  • A capstone field trip to a government agency or major think tank in Washington, D.C.

A Schar School of Policy and Government student shakes hands with Susan Rice during a Rice-Petraeus event

“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 Peter Mandaville

Meet the Schar School First-Year Academic Community Director

Professor Peter Mandaville

For any questions or to learn more, contact: