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 2020 Advanced Immersion Research and Project Choices

If you have questions about a specific academic immersion project, please contact the appropriate faculty member directly. If you have questions about the program as a whole or experiential hours, please contact Leah Beard.

Faculty Mentor(s)Academic Immersion Project/FocusDescription
Paul Cabe Conservation Genetics of Crayfish Professor Cabe's research projects use analysis of DNA sequences to answer questions about ecologically important wild crayfish populations in eastern North American streams and rivers. Some questions the team addresses are very basic, and include sorting populations into species groups (which sometimes include discovery of previously unknown species). Other questions include determining the status of populations (native or introduced?). Scholars get a great introduction to basic lab DNA skills, including DNA extraction, PCR, DNA sequencing and sequence analysis. Field work (collecting crayfish from streams) is also included!
Jon Erickson Non-Invasive Detection of Colon Motor Activity from Body Surface Electrical Recordings The Erickson lab is developing a new technique to measure colon motor activity from an array of skin-surface multichannel electrical recordings (like putting on a band-aid equipped with electrical sensors). In the lab, the team will integrate physiology, electronics, and signal processing algorithms. The long-term goal is to enable new and more powerful diagnostic techniques for patients suffering from common gastrointestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome using non-invasive measurements.
Don Gaylord The Historical Archaeology of Enslavement at Liberty Hall Professor Don Gaylord and his team will dive into his archival research, and into excavating and analyzing the archaeological remains of Liberty Hall - an 18th-century academy complex and 19th-century slave plantation. This work will reanalyze the important excavations from the 1970s by Professor John McDaniel and his students, while supplementing their work with targeted new excavations and laboratory analysis. Additionally, the team will work in Leyburn Library's Special Collections and at other archives uncovering the rich history of the enslaved African Americans who lived and worked at Liberty Hall for roughly sixty years.
Carrie Finch-Smith Fun with Numbers! The Finch-Smith research team will work on projects in number theory. In particular, her team searches for families of positive integers with special properties. The only requirements to work with Prof. Finch-Smith are arithmetic skills and a sense of curiosity and wonder.
Bill Hamilton Bison Grazing, Soil Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 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 (primarily bison), grasses, and microbes that contribute to the ability of grassland systems to maintain primary productivity. 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 Snacking and Onset of Obesity The I'Anson research team aims to study the role of snacking using a developing rat model to understand the mechanisms involved in childhood snacking and obesity onset. This summer, the team will be investigating the role of the GI tract, liver, and abdominal fat in development of obesity and related metabolic problems.
David Marsh Ecology and Conservation Biology of Rare, Mountaintop Salamanders Professor Marsh's team will study the factors that limit the species range for rare salamanders in the Blue Ridge Mountains. No experience is necessary, but scholars should be enthusiastic about field research, including hiking uphill to field sites.
Gregg Whitworth Identify the Signaling Systems Responsible for the Induction of Cell Death in Response to Environmental Stimuli in Saccharomyces cerevisiae Professor Whitworth's team uses yeast as a model system to study regulated cell death, or apoptosis, that will ultimately provide insights into preventing cancer. The team will assist in research that uses CRISPR technology to design a series of genetic constructs that will allow them to test if apoptosis is induced in yeast and identify what other cellular signaling systems are required. Although compelling evidence has emerged suggesting that apoptosis is conserved in single-celled eukaryotes, including the fungi, open questions remain about how well the machinery that controls apoptosis is conserved.
James Casey, Art Goldsmith Reinventing Fiscal Policy and Technology Impact Education in an Age of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics Professors Casey and Goldsmith are writing an essay for submission to the Journal of Economic Education that guides economic educators on how to modernize the coverage of the effects of technological change and the role of fiscal policy in the age of the 4th Industrial Revolution. The essay will integrate these topics, which to date are treated as independent or unrelated topics. Scholars will review assigned readings as part of their research, and provide valuable feedback on the suitability and main points within the readings.
Julie Woodzicka Prejudice and Intergroup Relations Lab - Confrontation of Sexism and Racism The Prejudice and Intergroup Relations Lab will focus on research concerning confrontation of sexism and racism. Specifically, scholars will examine how people who confront with serious statements versus witty comments are perceived by others in terms of effectiveness and likeability. Scholars will be guided through mastering the confrontation literature, designing studies, collecting and analyzing data, and presenting results.
Mackenzie Brooks, Paula Kiser, Tom Camden Digital Approaches to W&L History In this immersion experience, scholars will encounter Washington and Lee University through its archival records. Library faculty will introduce scholars to the history of the institution and to digital methods for analyzing and publishing archival material. This student-driven group project will be carried out to highlight an aspect of our history for the broader community. Scholars will learn how to scope and design a digital project, conduct archival research, use digital tools, and work effectively in a team.
Stephanie Sandberg, Tom Camden Original Research for Creating Plays In this immersion experience, scholars will work alongside Professors Sandberg and Camden to form the research foundations for two different plays. The first play is based on domestic violence, where the team will select and assemble previously recorded interviews. During this process, scholars will learn detailed coding techniques for analyzing interview material. The second play is based on the love story of Evelyn and Larry Wynn. To support development of this play, scholars will go through archives of Special Collections at W&L, and identify items that could be used in a dramatic representation.

Experiential Learning and Related Personal and Professional 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 can be seen below.

Topic/ProjectDescription
Community & Engagement AIM Scholars will participate in introductory discussions about campus resources and involvement, team building, and volunteerism. Specifically, students will participate in service with The Campus Kitchen at Washington and Lee (CKWL).
Experiential Project 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. This project will mimic a portion of a typical college course.
Leadership Education AIM Scholars will 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 will 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 AIM Scholars will understand how to navigate online career resources, and with the help of the Career and Professional Development personnel, develop a portfolio of professional documents. Exposure to Career and Professional Development sessions provide scholars with 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 AIM Scholars will be equipped with a better understanding of 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.

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

The AIM summer program, in its entirety, 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.

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