Democracy Lab Prepares Schar School Freshmen to be Career Ready

A group of students stands on stairs in front of a columned building with three banners hanging.
Members of the Democracy Lab explored our nation’s history at the National Archives.
Six students in a line hold certificates at the front of a conference room.
Students involved in the “You’re the Voter” study are honored by Associate Professor Jennifer N. Victor (far right).

Starting college life can be daunting, but being part of the Democracy Lab, the Schar School of Policy and Government’s first-year residential learning community, makes the transition easier.

As members of the Democracy Lab, residents experience field trips, research projects, guest speaker visits, and networking opportunities that make the entry point into the world of politics an exciting adventure.

George Saade, a freshman majoring in international security and law, says his time in the Democracy Lab is one of the best experiences at George Mason University.

“I had no idea that so many opportunities came with Dem Lab when I applied for it,” he said.

Among the variety of opportunities available to him, Saade says the “You’re the Voter” research study led by Democracy Lab Faculty Director and Professor Jennifer N. Victor was the highlight of his Dem Lab experience.

Being a part of the project allowed the researchers to educate student voters on the upcoming elections and subsequently learn critical research and statistical analysis skills such as coding in R in an Election Analysis class.

"R studio is one of the biggest pieces that Dem Lab has exposed me to that will help me [when entering the workforce],” Saade said.

Zach Lincoln, a Schar School and Honors College freshman majoring in public administration, first heard about Democracy Lab from Congressional staffers on Capitol Hill. Through the variety of experiences in Democracy Lab, he says he is now able to better prepare for his future career in Virginia state and local politics.

“[Dem Lab] taught me bonus tips to succeed in college and life,” he said. Specifically, he cites collaborating with the “You’re the Voter” team on its website establishment. With that project, he gained problem-solving and adaptability skills that will benefit him in the fast-paced environment of American politics. 

To further enhance students’ professional development, Democracy Lab offers a biweekly “Hidden Curriculum” series. In the series, Democracy Lab students receive invaluable tips about financial literacy and stress management and hear from professionals in the Global Education Office (GEO)University Career Services, and the Office of Student Creative Activities and Research (OSCAR). 

Anastasia Rea, a freshman international security and law major and the Hidden Curriculum attendance record-holder (she did not miss a single session), believes these academic workshops and guest speaker presentations helped her explore different opportunities within the Schar School and beyond.

Dylan Morse, a junior majoring in public administration, serves as one of three resident assistants for the learning community. He has seen Democracy Lab evolve over the past three years. The learning community enjoys a diversity of backgrounds, experiences, and beliefs that contribute to its sense of community.

“We enjoy our experiences together,” he said.

Students make lifelong connections, as well as participate in academic coursework, making Democracy Lab the perfect combination of professional development and team building.

Looking forward to their upcoming trip to the U.S. Capitol and the White House, Saade, Lincoln, and Rea are ready to continue their journey in the upper-level Democracy Lab, a brand-new learning community at the Schar School, hoping to further foster passions for their majors and future careers. Morse, on the other hand, is ready to welcome a new community of passionate first-year students in fall 2024.