For this First-Year, Performing Research Was a Surprising—and Rewarding—Experience

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Photo of Schar School of Policy and Government student Nylah Mitchell
Nylah Mitchell: ‘One piece of advice I would give to a new student is to explore everything.’

To many, the idea of working on original research is reserved for professors and graduate students who have the time and tools to do the deep dives into a topic necessary to contribute to producing a peer-reviewed paper for publication.

The Schar School of Policy and Government—and George Mason University in general—has a different idea: Undergraduates participate in projects supported through a number of programs that teach how to perform advanced research using sophisticated tools—some of which are normally available only to master’s and PhD students—and to contribute to studies with the assistance of professors.

These are opportunities more students should know about. Case in point: “I was not sure if I wanted to do research before I came to Mason,” said Schar School freshman Nylah Mitchell. “I only became involved with research when [Associate] Professor [Jennifer N.] Victor mentioned in class about her own undergrad research projects involving [Congressional] caucus and member attributes collection” using student volunteers.

The government and international politics major from Alexandria, Virginia, found herself in the Schar School’s Undergraduate Research Assistant Program, or URAP. In addition to aiding Victor in her study of legislative caucuses, Mitchell joined a team of like-minded students who were studying state legislation regarding the perceived penalties of menstruation.

The fruits of the team’s work were recently presented during the Schar School’s annual Research Fair, an event at Mason where 15 Schar School undergrad teams presented posters depicting the results of their URAP projects.

The poster, “Pink Taxes and Period Poverty,” was put together by a team including Mitchell and fellow undergraduate researchers Shafuq Naseem, Lexi Alease Wilson, Rosemary Obinim, Ava Florentyne Kuch, Natalia P. Medina, and graduate research assistant Ryan Barock, who is in the Master of Public Administration Program at the Schar School. The faculty advisor was Associate Professor Bonnie B. Stabile, who also serves as associate dean of student and academic affairs and director of the Gender and Policy (GAP) Center.

One of Mitchell’s favorite aspects of performing research is attending Victor’s Politics Research Lab meetings. Each week Mitchell finds herself in the company of other student researchers “who share resources and opportunities for other members,” she said. At those meetings, she is likely to encounter other research assistants, including several PhD students—another unexpected bonus of the URAP program.

How does she do it all—a full load of courses, independent and group research—and do it successfully? Actually, it’s the opportunity that drives her.

“One piece of advice I would give to a new student is to explore everything,” she said. “It is OK to not know what you want to do when you arrive. I, in fact, have changed my major twice before I committed to government and international politics.”

But clearly, she found a home at the Schar School.

Additional reporting by Buzz McClain, Schar School of Policy and Government.