The first Next System Fellows at Arlington

by Nathaniel Adam Smith

Next System Studies at Mason logo (contact Ben Manski for permissions)In mid-September of 2021, Next System Fellows flyers began adorning campus push boards and circulating in college classrooms. Marked with a colorful, ever-turning pinwheel—the Next System logo—they advertised a new academic program offering Mason undergrads an opportunity to study the technologies, movement strategies, institutional models, and politics of system change and next system design. 

The Next System Fellows at Arlington take a series of courses together. In the first, "Social Change and the Next System," students move beyond identifying and critiquing systemic problems to analyzing real world efforts to build a new political and economic system. "Power, Politics, and Society" applies political sociology to particular cases in examining the perpetually evolving and increasingly globalized social order. Finally, "Digital Technologies, Knowledge Production and Society" introduces students to the construction and implications of new technologies such as AI and blockchain/holochain enabled peer-to-peer networks.

These courses are taught using the cohort model—an approach to learning wherein a community of students enroll and participate together in the same classes. A feature of every Arlington Fellows program, this teaching method facilitates networking and collaboration as well as regular discourse between members which broadens their democratic imaginations. Students personalize their learning experiences through internships at one of the program’s partner organizations or with Mason's Democratizing NOVA project. They also conduct independent research related to their internship.

Although its structure is consistent with the university’s Arlington Fellows program—including its cohort model and internship requirement—the Next System Fellows also parallel other innovative academic programs across the globe. Vermont and McGill's "Leadership for the Ecozoic" program's use of the cohort model, internship requirement, and commitment to multidisciplinarity all mirror the Next System Fellows at Arlington. The University of Maryland’s “We’re Engaged!” meetings produced dialogues between university and community leaders and new sites for university-community collaborations. Courses offered through the Center for Cooperatives at the University of Wisconsin at Madison offer inspired instruction on the history of cooperatives and the practice of cooperative economics.

The original Next System Fellows leaflets posed several thought provoking questions to their readers: “Where is our society going, and where does it need to go? How do we get there, and what must we do to get there?” By posing these questions, the program implies it can provide answers to them. And perhaps it can. But essential is the pedagogy involved. By calling students to address the systemic challenges of the 21st century, the Next System Fellows program invites students to become a part of creating solutions. 

Fellowship applicants underwent a competitive review process wherein they detailed their reasons for seeking admission, addressed their potential contributions to the cohort, and described how they planned to use what they learned in their post-undergraduate lives. In late November admissions notices were sent out and eight students formed the first cohort of Next System Fellows.


James CondoJames Condo was motivated to become a Next System Fellow by the harmful effects of neoliberalism on his hometown in the post-industrial U.S. Midwest, witnessing capital flight, the decline of union power, and the increasing precarity of work. Phil Jones’ "Without the Worker" peaked Condo’s interest in mitigating the exploitation of micro-work rampant under platform cooperativism, which he’s looking forward to learning more about in "Digital Technologies, Knowledge Production and Society." His research interests include social movements, alternatives to capitalism, and gender and sexuality studies. Condo will be interning with the DNOVA project. In his free time, he enjoys cooking and baking.

Jasmin EnciuJasmin Enciu is a senior majoring in Government and International Policy. As a Next System Fellow, she’ll learn to apply her academic interests in the intersections of law, human rights, social justice, and environmentalism towards developing more equal, just, and fair systems. Enciu will be interning with Move to Amend, where she will assist in planning a national symposium and mobilizing to pass the We the People Amendment. She relaxes by spending time with friends, TV and film, video games, drawing, reading, and music.

Jimena EspinozaJimena Espinoza was motivated to apply for the program by Dr. Mark Cooley’s Eco-Art, where she became familiar with a host of artists and activists identifying and resisting system deficiencies through art; she’s certain that our collective creativity is a force strong enough to overcome any present and future obstacles. Espinoza will be carrying this optimism during her internship with the U.S. Solidarity Economy Network, where she’ll learn about networking, organizing, and publishing. She loves nature trails and cooking and recommends you check out, "The Great," available on Hulu.

Clay FoleyClay Foley’s primary research focus concerns society’s treatment of outcasts, and they’re looking forward to exploring how social change can benefit these marginalized persons. During the semester Foley will be interning with CODEPINK, where they hope to learn firsthand about large-scale, organized social movements. Outside of classes, they can be found at live music concerts, local thrift stores, and skateboarding.

Gabe GonzalezGabe Gonzales is an intern with Democratizing NOVA where he’ll conduct independent research on pro-democracy initiatives within the Northern Virginia region and help organize the first campus-community "Democratizing NOVA Summit." Raised by two working-class, immigrant parents, he is privy to our system’s dysfunctions and hopes to rectify them. Gonzales’ academic interests include social movements, South American history, and alternative systems of governance. A fan of professional football, he supports Barcelona and Tottenham.

Lupe Jimenez HernandezLupe Jimenez Hernandez was born in Mexico but later immigrated to Oregon. She’s a nail artist, beta fish parent, painter, and kombucha sommelier. She’s most excited to begin working alongside the other members of her cohort, whose diversity of perspectives she hopes will yield powerful dialogues and partnerships. While she cannot predict this semester’s outcome, Jimenez-Hernandez is nonetheless inspired by the opportunity and looking forward to facing the challenges ahead.

Camilo OrtizCamilo Ortiz is a first-generation Chilean American driven to create a more just and equitable future for all. He enjoys traveling to places old and new but especially hopes to visit the Netherlands and continue his journeys across Europe. Ortiz is most looking forward to collaborating with his peers in the cohort model as well as gaining valuable career knowledge while interning with DNOVA.

Kristen TalmanKristen Talman grew up in northern Virginia and is a senior in Integrative Studies. She works as a professional journalist and is interning with the Next System Media Project. She is particularly interested in the role of labor unions in building next system alternatives.