AIM Program (Advanced Immersion and Mentoring)

The mission of the Advanced Immersion and Mentoring (AIM) initiative is to instill within incoming first-year students an increased sense of confidence and belonging. As Washington and Lee furthers its ongoing commitment to a diverse and inclusive community, the development of AIM as our Quality Enhancement Plan will provide meaningful support and foster connections for talented students from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds.

The AIM initiative will engage students, faculty and staff on the undergraduate campus in a three-tiered approach. One objective is the AIM Scholars Summer Program, being modeled after the former Advanced Research Cohort (ARC) Program for STEM fields with the goal of providing immersive academic opportunities across the liberal arts to empower a broad group of incoming first years (AIM Scholars) from varied backgrounds.

The video below shows the ARC program, the predecessor of the AIM program and highlights students participating in lab research.

The Advanced Immersion Research and Project Choices for the Summer of 2019 are:


STEM research opportunities allow up to ten AIM Scholars to work alongside current W&L students and their faculty mentor on a variety of STEM research projects that will ultimately be presented at national scientific meetings and/or published in peer reviewed journals.  Scholars will learn to read scientific literature with their research team that is relevant to the ongoing research and that provides background for the work in progress.  They will work alongside their mentor and current W&L students in the field, in animal work, and at the lab bench, depending on the focus of the research.  Possible mentors and research labs accepting AIM scholars interested in a STEM research opportunity include:

Nadia Ayoub - Biology The Ayoub lab is broadly interested in how molecular evolution generates phenotypic diversity with a current focus on comparing spider silk glue proteins among species that make different types of webs in highly variable environments. The lab is currently seeking people willing to work with live spiders who also have an interest in molecular genetics, biochemistry, or computational biology.

Paul Cabe - Biology. Crayfish species range from South Carolina to Pennsylvania and likely consist of several closely related but distinct species. We will use DNA sequence analysis to determine how many species are present, and the geographic range of each. Students will participate in field work and lab work (DNA extraction, PCR, sequencing).

Jonathan Erickson - Physics and Engineering. The Erickson lab team is developing a non-invasive biomedical technique to assessing how the colon contracts by measuring electrical signals on the skin surface. We will be conducting an IRB-approved human subject study to validate the new electronics module and computer automated algorithms which identify when and how the colon is contracting.

Carrie Finch-Smith - Mathematics. The Finch-Smith research group searches for infinite classes of Sierpinski or Riesel numbers in other sequences of numbers.  An example of a Sierpinski number is 78557; this is a fascinating number because 78557*2^n + 1 is composite for all positive integers n. Riesel numbers have a similar property.

Kyle Friend - Chemistry & Biochemistry. We use a combination of computational and experimental tools to study how the ribosome translates messenger RNAs and how that translation is influence by cell signaling. We are also collaborating with Dr. Nadia Ayoub to understand how proteins give rise to the mechanical properties of spider webs.

Bill Hamilton - Biology and Environmental Studies. The Hamilton lab conducts research on soil organic matter and microbial dynamics in soils from Yellowstone National Park (YNP). The overarching goal is to elucidate the interactions between grazers, grasses and microbes that contribute to the ability of grassland systems to maintain primary productivity. The soils come from a large long-term collaboration with the National Park Service that investigates the effects of bison grazing in YNP. We have established 25 field sites throughout the migratory range of bison that will be monitored for the next 5 years. Methods include: stable isotope mass spectrometry, spectrophotometric determinations of soil NH4+ and NO3-, soil and root respirometry, analysis of soil organic matter quality and quantity, soil DNA extraction, PCR, quantitative PCR and DNA sequencing.

Helen I'Anson - Biology & Neuroscience. The I'Anson research team studies the role of snacking using a developing rat model to understand the mechanisms involved in childhood snacking and obesity onset. This summer we will be using molecular tools to investigate the role of the GI tract, liver and abdominal fat in development of obesity and related metabolic problems.

David Marsh - Biology & Neuroscience.  Why some species of mountain top salamanders have very small ranges and others are widespread is a fundamental question in ecology. We are using experimental approaches in the field to compare movement ability of a salamander that is restricted to a single mountaintop to that of a closely related species found across eastern North America. Students should be enthusiastic about spending time in the forest chasing salamanders, but also working on the computer improving the range maps for these species.


The archaeology project introduces two AIM Scholars to the scientific practice of archaeological field methods through hands-on experience, readings, and discussions. Using current theoretical models from anthropological archaeology, scholars will learn how archaeologists develop and test hypotheses about past human societies by excavating and recording an archaeological site. In doing so, they will learn how to survey/map their excavations, dig stratigraphically, describe and interpret sediments/soils, extract samples, process and identify artifacts, and contextualize archaeological finds. AIM Scholars will participate in archaeological excavation on the 18th and 19th-century sites of Liberty Hall and Buffalo Forge. Faculty Mentor: Don Gaylord

Journalism and Mass Communication

The journalism and mass communications project focuses on "People and places". This project can accommodate up to four AIM Scholars and is geared toward incoming first-year students with an expressed interest in journalism. This project focuses on teaching participants how to tell compelling stories about the people and places that make a community unique. AIM Scholars will be taught how to use audio, video and words to do journalism-accurately, fairly, ethically and with healthy skepticism. Over the five weeks, each scholar will produce at least two video stories about people who live and work in Lexington and Rockbridge County. They may also report on the work of other AIM scholars on campus. The students' final project will be production of a TV news magazine, which will showcase their stories. During the last few days of the AIM Scholar's 5-week program, an evening screening of our students' news magazine will be held for all AIM participants in Northen Auditorium.  AIM Scholar mentors, interested staff, and current summer research students will be invited to this screening. Faculty Mentors: Toni Locy

Theatre, Dance, and Film Studies

The Theatre, Dance, and Film Studies project includes working on the beginning of a documentary about domestic violence in partnership with Project Horizon (Lexington, VA), the Theatre, Dance and Film Studies department, The Shepherd Program for the Study of Poverty and Human Capability, and the Office of Community Based Learning at W&L. Two current faculty, two upper-division students, and two AIM Scholars will work to form the foundations for the documentary. Scholars will acquire a broad knowledge of the field of social justice documentary and apply that learning to creating contracts, interview guides and collecting actual footage. Scholars will also generate the abilities of critically examining a social justice issue (in this case domestic violence) and creating the outline and ideas for a documentary that addresses the issue. This project is collaborative in nature and will require teamwork all the way through to production. Faculty Mentor: Shawn Paul Evans and Stephanie Sandberg

Experiential Learning and Related Personal Development

To ensure that our AIM Scholars Summer Program will impact the whole student, the hours beyond one's academic immersion project are designed to engage scholars across the community, offer intentional leadership development, and expose scholars to the career and professional development office. Modules in this half of the program include:

  • Community & engagement - introductory discussions about campus resources and involvement, team building, and volunteerism.
  • Two experiential learning projects - offered to all AIM scholars (across each academic cohort). These projects will mimic a portion of a typical college course and require that the students assimilate new information, conceive proposals, and design, develop and create an original project as a group.
    • AIM Scholars will be introduced to the Integrative and Quantitative (IQ) Center and with the help of faculty and institutional technology support staff, complete a self-selected project using IQ Center technology and present on their work at the end of the AIM experience.
    • Students will also meet weekly in the dance studio to engage in movement exercises created to increase physical intelligence, spatial acuity, and creative thinking skills. Concepts in kinesiology, movement analysis and choreographic phrasing will build upon one another over the course of five weeks. Critical response and movement vocabulary will be examined as the group creates a presentation for the final week of the program.
  • Leadership education - encourage AIM Scholars to examine the fundamentals of leadership, to think critically about the role of an authentic leader, and to explore their own leadership style and capacity. This module also lays the groundwork for scholars to consider taking on leadership roles during their second year at W&L, part of the second learning objective of the AIM initiative. At the end of the program, scholars practice goal setting and writing a personal mission statement, meant to serve as a guiding statement for them as they begin their first term in the fall.
  • Career and Professional Development - teach AIM Scholars how to navigate online career resources and aid scholars in developing a portfolio of professional documents. Exposure to Career and Professional Development and leadership education sessions provide summer participants an opportunity to better understand their strengths and talents, increase self-awareness, and provide contacts for related questions when they return to campus.
  • Tips for College Success will help prepare AIM scholars for what to expect in the fall term. We will promote a liberal arts approach to learning and focus on topics such as: first-year seminars, writing in the curriculum, foundation requirements, etc. We will also introduce students to campus resources including the writing center, academic and executive functions support, study halls for STEM, and tutoring services. These discussions will help students to understand the role of such components in building critical thinking skills, gaining a more diverse educational perspective and exposing them to curricular opportunities that they may not have experienced in high school.

The AIM summer program will help AIM scholars to develop time and project management skills as they balance mandatory scheduled activities and independent program requirements while meeting multiple deadlines.

In addition to the above, AIM Scholars will work on a personal reflection, addressing the value of the AIM summer experience and how the experience will translate into their college years. Scholars will present their personal reflections to their peers and mentors at the end of the five weeks, alongside an overview of each scholar's academic work and their experiences working in groups.

The photos above show the ARC program, the predecessor of the new AIM program and highlight students participating in lab research.