AIM Program (Advanced Immersion and Mentoring)

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

The AIM initiative engages undergraduate students, faculty and staff in a three-tiered approach. One tier is the AIM Scholars Summer Program. Modeled after the former Advanced Research Cohort (ARC) Program for STEM fields, this program provides immersive academic opportunities across the liberal arts to empower a broad group of incoming first-year AIM Scholars from various backgrounds.

The 2022 Advanced Immersion and Mentoring Programs

The AIM Scholars Summer Program will be delivered in two formats in the summer of 2022: a residential five-week experience, as well as a virtual one-week experience.

The residential five-week experience will run from Sunday, June 12 to Saturday, July 16.
The virtual one-week experience will run from Monday, July 18 to Friday, July 22.

Both formats will include a variety of sessions to address academic opportunities and resources, exercises in leadership development, and tips and tools to support an increased sense of belonging and overall well-being at W&L. Those who are selected to participate in the residential five-week experience will also have the opportunity to work with faculty and peer mentors in active and ongoing research, or collaborate on an exciting new project in a specific liberal arts discipline.

Personal and Professional Development

Both the residential and virtual experiences offer personal and professional development opportunities, which are designed to engage scholars across the community, offer intentional leadership development, and expose scholars to available resources. These sessions include the following:

TopicDescription
Community & Engagement AIM Scholars participate in introductory discussions about campus resources and involvement, team building, and volunteerism. Scholars engage with campus professionals and student leaders in areas across student life, including Student Activities, Greek Life, Campus Recreation, Office of Inclusion and Engagement, and Residential Life.
Leadership Education AIM Scholars complete the CliftonStrengths assessment to identify their unique strengths, and how to meet optimal performance through intentional application of their strengths. 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.
Career and Professional Development AIM Scholars learn how to navigate online career resources, including Handshake - an online career development tool. Exposure to the Career and Professional Development Office provides scholars with an opportunity to increase self-awareness, and make contacts for related questions when they return to campus.
Tips for College Success AIM Scholars understand what to expect in the fall term. We promote a liberal arts approach to learning and focus on topics such as: first-year seminars, writing in the curriculum, foundation requirements, etc. We introduce students to campus resources including the writing center, academic and executive functions support, study halls for STEM, and tutoring services. These discussions 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.

Residential Experience

Available Academic Immersion Projects

As part of the residential experience, AIM Scholars will participate in active or ongoing research, or collaborate on a new project within a specific liberal arts discipline. 2022 projects are listed below.

Academic Immersion Project/FocusFaculty Mentor(s)Description
Applying Machine Learning to Intentionally Negative Behavior in Video Games Cody Watson In 2022, the MOBA game League of Legends reached a total of 180 million monthly players. With the inclusion of so many players, the idea of moderating the game for "game-ruining" behavior is a difficult problem. Players need to be able to express their own style of play without hindering or intentionally ruining the game for others. Due to the massive number of players, manual review of games is unfeasible and not realistic. Therefore, an automated process must occur for the identification of game ruining behavior, that requires very little manual effort. In this project, we are going to be looking at a series of in-game metrics through the use of Riot Games API. Our goal is to build a machine learning algorithm that can identify, with a high likelihood of success, game ruining behavior. Additionally, we will look at and analyze correlations that may help to identify the difference between intentional game ruining behavior and just a poor performance. We will explore things such as champions chosen, number of games played per day, the skill of teammates, and teammates' champion choice. Our goal is to see if any of these attributes can help us predict when "game ruining" behavior is likely to occur. Students will benefit from having played League of Legends, some python coding skills, and any experience of working with an API. For the first week, you will get familiarized with python and working with Riot Games Rest API through a python library. We will then begin to parameterize and extract the data required to train our machine learning algorithm, which will incorporate writing scripts to access previously played games. Lastly, we will build a series of machine learning models including logistic regression, random forest and an SVM, to see if we can predict intentional, game-ruining behavior.
Benford's Law in Music Sybil Prince Nelson Benford's Law, or the First Digit Law, shows that the frequency distribution of leading digits in a set of data follows a specific logarithmic pattern. A connection has already been shown for note duration in Classical music. Professor Nelson's goal for the summer is to look for connections in modern music.
Biological Time Keeping Natalia Toporikova Professor Toporikova's research team will be using Data Science tools to understand the biological time keeping. We will be using data collected by our collaborators to analyze behavioral activity of spiders. By conducting analysis of locomotor activity at different times of day, we will build a model of biological clock in spider and predict how those clocks are affected by light. No previous programming experience is necessary, but familiarity or interest in data science software will be a huge plus.
Conservation of Mountaintop Salamanders David Marsh Plans are not set for next summer but will likely involve a mix of field research and data compilation/analysis. Opportunities are available for students who are interested in environmental biology or statistics. No specific background is necessary, though students should be comfortable hiking off trail, getting dirty, and so forth.
Conservation Genetics of North American Crayfish Paul Cabe The main focus of the Cabe lab is currently on describing and documenting the biodiversity of crayfish in eastern North America, the global hotspot for crayfish diversity with over 400 species. Freshwater crayfish are an imperiled group, and realistic plans for the preservation of diversity must include an accurate knowledge of all of the species and their geographic ranges. We use genetic tools (DNA sequence comparisons) to help define the range of known species and to help describe new species-yes, there are still a number of undescribed species! Much of the work is lab-based, with experience in DNA extraction, PCR, and sequence analysis, but we always include at least some field work capturing crayfish from Virginia's streams and rivers.
Data Science Gregg Whitworth & Keri Larson Drawing from the philosophy of the recently instituted DS minor, we plan to expose participants to the processes of analyzing and extracting meaning from data to learn more about their world, society, and our respective disciplines of Biology and Information Systems. Our goal is to introduce students to what it means to be a data analyst and to acclimate them to some of the standard platforms necessary to effectively work with data, specifically SQL and R. Ideally, each incoming student will remain affiliated with the Data Science program as part of a community that loves data!
Diet and Obesity Sarah Blythe The U.S. adult obesity rate currently stands at 42.4%, the first time the national rate has passed the 40 percent mark, and further evidence of the country's obesity crisis. Obesity is associated with several adverse health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, and even some forms of cancer. Obesity can also impact fertility. Obese women have higher miscarriage rates and less success in in-vitro fertilization and other reproductive treatments. Obese women also have a higher incidence of PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome). Several years ago, our lab created an animal model of diet induced PCOS. We have published several papers on our initial findings, and this summer, we will be starting a new phase of this project. We will be looking at the impact of macronutrient composition and solid vs. liquid calories on our rodent PCOS model. So, in addition to handling rats, we will be doing blood draws and measuring hormone levels. Students will also learn to section tissue, perform immunocytochemistry, and collect and analyze microscope images.
Documentary Film Production Stephanie Sandberg In the Summer of 2022, Professor Stephanie Sandberg will be working on the pre-production of a documentary that requires extensive research. The new film is based on Anthony Jack's book The Privileged Poor with the overall goal of finishing the pre-production on the documentary, organizing all the research materials, creating a full literature review on the topic, and conducting five to ten test interviews with students, faculty and staff at W&L and our peer institutions. We will not be traveling for these test interviews, but will conduct them via Zoom. In addition, our team will learn editing and finishing a film using footage from "Loneliness", a documentary film that is near completion. The divide between the two projects will be about 50:50. This will allow students to learn the whole documentary film production process.
Enslavement at Liberty Hall: Uncovering the Archaeology and Forgotton History of W&L's Iconic Back Campus Don Gaylord Professor Gaylord will continue his research at Liberty Hall, the location of the iconic 18th-century campus of our predecessor institution, Liberty Hall Academy. Professor Gaylord's research has shown that after the Liberty Hall Academy House burned down in January 1803, the two subsequent land-owners held over a hundred African Americans in bondage at Liberty Hall as the labor force for agriculture and light industry over the years between 1803 and the American Civil War. Our work this summer will focus on excavation in the yard spaces around Structure 9, the academy's Steward's House, which later served as the center of enslaved life at Liberty Hall Plantation. Enslaved people lived in this large stone building, but they also likely operated a forge, cooked and ate, performed washerwoman and seemstress work, and operated one of the earliest African American schoolhouses in the Valley of Virginia. Trying to understand what life was like for the people held in bondage at Liberty Hall will be our main goal this summer. We will excavate while the weather allows, we will process and analyse the sediments and artifacts when the weather keeps us indoors, and we will visit archives like W&L Special Collections that hold many of the documents related to Liberty Hall.
Lost Mystics and Perceptions of Arts and Humanities Majors Genelle Gertz Professor Gertz's research team will perform scholarly analysis for peer-reviewed articles and research on W&L students' perceptions of the Arts and Humanities. The final products will be a draft of one article by Prof. Gertz on Julian of Norwich and Gertrude More, a partially drafted article on Psalm singing and poet Elizabeth Melville, as well as analysis of interview transcripts from W&L student focus groups held over Winter 2022 on the Arts and Humanities. Analysis of focus groups-work conducted collaboratively with Prof. Lynny Chin, Prof. Elisabeth Gilbert and their student researchers-will contribute to development of a survey of all W&L students that will go out in Fall 2022. Additionally, students will research related course content for a new class Prof. Gertz will teach this fall on Mystics, Witches and Saints.
Modern Web Applications and their Development Sara Sprenkle Professor Sprenkle's lab is interested in understanding how modern web applications are developed, used, and tested. The current focus is on how we can develop representative, cost-effective test cases from actual usage and how we can create test cases that emulate bad guys. The application will either pass the test cases (yea!) or will fail, thus revealing faults in the application that must be found and fixed. To understand the underlying challenges of testing web applications, it helps to be experienced Web developers. Therefore, our parallel focus is on developing user-friendly online tools for chemists and classicists. We can then use the Web applications we develop to learn more about how people use them and apply what we learn to improve automated Web application testing techniques.
Number Theory: Fun with Numbers! Carrie Finch-Smith Professor Finch-Smith works on research projects in number theory. In particular, her research group searches for families of positive integers with special properties. The only requirements to work with Professor Finch are arithmetic skills and a sense of curiosity and wonder. The best part of the Finch-Smith lab is getting to work with Victor!
Snacking and Obesity Development Helen I'ANson 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 investigating the role of the GI tract, and abdominal fat in development of obesity and related metabolic problems.

Note: If you have questions about a specific academic immersion project, please contact the appropriate faculty member directly. Contact information can be acquired from the directory or by contacting Leah Beard.

Other Experiential Learning Opportunities

AIM Scholars participating in the residential experience also participate in the following opportunities:

  1. AIM Scholars engage in service with The Campus Kitchen at Washington and Lee (CKWL).
  2. AIM Scholars are introduced to the Integrative and Quantitative (IQ) Center and with help from 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. This project mimics a portion of a typical college course.

In addition to the above, AIM Scholars work on a personal reflection, addressing the value of the AIM summer experience and how it translates into their college years. Scholars 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 their teams.

Virtual Experience

Available Faculty Panels

As part of their virtual experience, AIM Scholars select and attend panels comprised of faculty members who represent opportunities available in the liberal arts curriculum. Below is a sample of panels that were presented in previous virtual programs:

Faculty PresentersAcademic Discipline/Topic
Jenefer Davies, Andrea Lepage, Stephanie Sandberg The Arts - Dance, Theater, Art History
Melissa Vise, Diego Millan English and History
Helen I'Anson, Nadia Ayoub, Irina Mazilu, Jon Erickson, Carrie Finch-Smith, Kyle Friend, Gregg Whitworth, Sarah Blythe STEM Fields - Biology, Neuroscience, Physics, Engineering, Mathematics, Chemistry, Biochemistry, Health Professions
Donald Gaylord, Brian Alexander, Art Goldsmith, Jim Casey Social Sciences - Anthropology, Politics, Economics
Mackenzie Brooks, Moataz Khalifa Digital Culture Information
Aliaa Bassiouny, Elicia Cowins, Linda Hooks Business
Gregg Whitworth, Natalia Toporikova Data Science
Mark Coddington Journalism and Strategic Communications
Eric Moffa, Haley Sigler Teaching and Education
Mark Rush, Cindy Irby Study Abroad
Jon Eastwood, Jenny Davidson, Marisa Charley Community-Based Learning

Note: Academic topics and presenters are subject to change for the 2022 AIM Scholars Summer virtual program.

Other Expectations

AIM Scholars in this program are expected to move into their residence hall on August 25, 2022 in advance of participating in a pre-orientation trip. The purpose for an early move-in is for students to engage in follow-up sessions from their virtual experience, connect with their fellow scholars, and get a head start on familiarizing themselves with campus and other resources.

If you have questions about which program to pursue, please contact Leah Beard. Applications for both experiences will be due on Tuesday, May 3. Please note that the program leadership team will begin reviewing applications on Monday, April 25. We look forward to receiving your application!