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.

Watch a Short Video About the Residential Experience:

The 2023 Advanced Immersion and Mentoring Programs

The AIM Scholars Summer Program will be delivered in two formats in the summer of 2023.

  • The residential five-week experience will run from Sunday, June 11 to Saturday, July 15.
  • The virtual one-week experience will run from Monday, July 17 to Friday, July 21.

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. Moreover, those who are selected to participate in the virtual experience will have the opportunity to move to campus early for additional programming, as well as to meet and greet with various faculty and staff members, before participating in a Leading Edge trip.

Applications for both experiences will be due on Monday, May 1. Please note that the program leadership team will begin reviewing applications on Wednesday, April 26. Therefore, we encourage you to submit your application sooner rather than later.

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:

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. AIM Scholars will also engage in a My Values session, as well as learn the importance of mentorship and how to identify potential mentors.

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 come to campus as W&L students.
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. 2023 projects are listed below.

Academic Immersion Project/FocusFaculty Mentor(s)Description
Non-Invasive Monitoring of Colon Motility in Irritable Bowel Syndrome Jon Erickson The Erickson Team will be mapping colonic motility patterns comparing a cohort of IBS patients vs healthy normals. This entails conducting the studies in the lab, instrumenting participants with body-surface multielectrode arrays during a meal response study. Students would also help analyze and interpret the data - primarily with existing algorithms but extending them as needed. Students would contribute to continued development of a new hardware platform to record and analyze bowel sounds. The main aim is to run the first electrical + bowel sound measurement studies to understand what information is complementary or overlapping.
Molecular Variation in Spider Aqueous Glues Nadia Ayoub Professor Nadia Ayoub's Spider Team will assist with spider care, silk collection, silk purification, and protein analyses. Protein analyses, in collaboration with biochemist Dr. Friend, include identifying and quantifying silk glue proteins and their post-translational modifications, as well as the potential to express, purify, and assay recombinant glue proteins.
Examining the Boards of Directors in Newly Public Firms Lloyd Tanlu

Professor Tanlu's project examines the composition of the board of directors of companies that had just gone public via an initial public offering. More specifically, we aim to address the following questions:

  • What are the characteristics of board members of companies that had just gone through an initial public offering?
  • How do the boards of companies that go through an initial public offering differ from companies that went public via a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC)?
  • Are more diverse boards beneficial, particularly for young public companies?
Participating students' research will be supplemented with details behind the IPO and SPAC process, and training on collecting data and interpreting financial disclosures provided by public firms will be provided.
Conservation Biology and Herpetology David Marsh The Marsh Team studies the conservation biology of reptiles and amphibians. One major focus of our research is predicting the relative effects of climate change on both rare salamanders that are confined to single mountain ridges and widespread salamanders that are found throughout the Eastern U.S. Towards this goal, we are measuring the body condition multiple species of salamanders across elevational gradients from the tops of mountains down to the bottom. The other focus of our lab is urban ecology - in particular, why some species of reptiles and amphibians survive in cities while others are absent. To study this, we use large databases for the locations where amphibians and reptiles have been found relative to spatial data on land cover such as forest, the distribution of wetlands, and the locations of city parks.
Diversity and Taxonomy of Virginia Crayfish Paul Cabe Students in the Cabe Lab learn the use of DNA sequence data to help identify and delineate crayfish species. Students learn basic DNA techniques including DNA extraction, PCR, and analysis of DNA sequences. Students will also have the opportunity to participate in field work, collecting crayfish from sites in Virginia. The southeastern United States is the world hotspot for crayfish species diversity. Currently, just over 30 species are recognized in Virginia, but researchers believe that a number of species remain undescribed. Projects for this summer will include poorly known groups in Virginia.
Snacking and Childhood Obesity 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.
Cybersecurity Essentials: A Practical Learning Experience through Programming and Practice Taha Khan Professor Khan is offering a hands-on cybersecurity experience in which students will learn about the fundamentals of cybersecurity that are applicable in our daily lives. Students will begin by learning some basic Python programming, and then move on to topics such as password hygiene, authentication, VPN usage, malware protection, online privacy, anonymity, blockchains and cryptocurrencies, Internet censorship, and safe use of public Wi-Fi networks. Each module will include a practical exercise or mini-project tailored to the student's expertise and programming skills. In addition, we will discuss real-world examples of cybersecurity events, for example, the 2021 colonial pipeline ransomware attack is a notable event that goes very well alongside the discussion of malware/ransomware accompanied with an analysis of what made it possible, and how such events can be prevented in the future. In summary, the outcome of this experience will be to encourage the use of better cybersecurity practices, and contextual awareness of how modern technologies integrate cybersecurity.
Analysis of Circadian Activity in Spiders Natalia Toporikova and Nadia Ayoub The goal of Professor Toporikova and Professor Ayoub's research is to use basic data science tools to conduct analysis of circadian (daily) activity in spiders. Students will learn to use Python programing language and other basic data science tools to analyze previously collected data on spider locomotor activity. They will learn how to convert those data into graphical representations and conduct basic statistical analysis of this data. Students will also conduct the data analysis to understand how spider activity changes during the light and dark phase of the day. We then compare such daily activity profile among different spider species.
Enslavement at Liberty Hall: Uncovering the Archaeology and Forgotton History of W&L's Iconic Back Campus Don Gaylord During the summer of 2023, Professor Gaylord will continue his research at Liberty Hall, the location of the iconic 18th-century campus of our predecessor institution, Liberty Hall Academy. In the 1970s, Professor John McDaniel and roughly a decade of W&L students excavated here, focusing largely on the academic period of the site's occupation (1782-1803). Professor Gaylord's research has shown that after the Liberty Hall Academy House burned down in January 1803, the two subsequent landowners 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 seamstress 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 analyze 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.
Plucking-Can Hyporheic Flow and Pressure Erode Bedrock Under Nonuniform River Flow? Dave Harbor The Harbor Lab Group examines how rivers erode bedrock by "plucking" or "quarrying," wherein entire blocks of rock are lifted, slid or toppled out of place by hydraulic forces alone. Our work is motivated by slow river incision taking place in long-dead mountain belts, where erosion is likely limited only to the largest flood events. To date, almost no geological work quantifies the relationship between river flow strength at bedrock steps (where blocks can be plucked), block removal rate, and downstream block transport, and few engineering studies provide a setting commensurate with river erosion. In 2015, using the flume alone, two students and Professor Harbor discovered a new, fundamental mechanism by which plucking is made possible, one that has not be recognized before, and that is the subject of a manuscript published in Geosphere. In it, we've hypothesized that local water level changes related to hydraulic structures like standing waves and jumps (the fun waves that kayakers seek) generate pressure differences in the cracks in the bedrock, and that this pressure difference is transmitted under blocks and lifts them to initiate plucking. However, the lab group has yet to collect that perfect timing necessary to get all of the data needed to suggest the merit of our hypotheses. Our primary goals are to collect that dataset, build a better flume to make it easier to do repeatedly, and confirm these ideas in a field setting. Student activities in this project might include participating in the collection of data (cameras, pumps, computers, etc.), design and writing of code to read instrumental data (Arduino, Matlab), electronics, error checking and parsing results, construction or fabrication (Plexiglas, 3D printing of "bedrock" and flume pieces), field work (smartrock launch), spitballing about making a new flume based on how the old one works, or writing python/matlab code to analyze dye traces as water flows through the cracks.
Accuracy of Personality, Politics, and Stereotypes Jake Gibson Professor Gibson's project is suited well for students who are interested in stereotypes, politics, religion, LGBTQIA+ identity, and the accuracy of social perceptions. We are currently in the phase of creating recorded interviews of individuals in various different groups. Students will be learning more about social perceptions by collecting data on sexual orientation, political and religious affiliation, and other demographic measurements. We expect to find that individuals who share group membership are more accurate in their perceptions compared to those who do not. This is part of a larger project where we are looking at how stereotypes and group membership impact the accuracy of our judgments about personality. Students will learn more about the process of social science research and will become more adept at interviewing and discussing these topics with others. They will also learn how to analyze the data and have the opportunity to present it at the Fall Showcase of Student Summer Research and the Science, Society, and the Arts.
What is the Relationship Between Interoception and Sleep? Ryan Brindle Professor Brindle's Research Team will be exploring the relationship between interoception and sleep. Interoception is the body's ability to sense itself. Things like heart rate, respiration rate, blood glucose, etc. are all things that the body acutely regulates for survival. In order to regulate it, the body must constantly monitor (i.e., sense) it. Both poor sleep and poor interoception have been linked with adverse mental and physical health. The team will be exploring the relationship between sleep and interoception to see 1) if poor sleep negatively impacts interoception or 2) if good sleep might be a way to improve interoception. Students will gain knowledge of human physiology related to sleep and the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. In addition, they will learn how to record human physiology in a laboratory setting.
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!
Identifying Additional Factors that Regulate Early-Phase Ribosome Processivity Kyle Friend Ribosomes are the enzymes that catalyze protein synthesis during translation. These enzymes stay bound to an mRNA for many rounds of catalysis, a feature that is termed processivity. In our lab, we have determined that ribosomes spontaneously abort translation, and abortive translation is strongly influenced by cellular nutrition. In additional experiments, we have identified proteins that mediate this response, and we will be working this summer to further characterize the factors that connect cellular nutrition to abortive translation. Our goals for the summer are to perform time course experiments analyzing ribosome processivity using a fluorescent protein reporter. Additional experiments may involve the creation of new strains lacking specific proteins to further our analysis.

Note: If you have questions about a specific academic immersion project, please contact the appropriate faculty member directly.

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 attend and engage 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, Genelle Gertz 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 Digital Culture Information
Aliaa Bassiouny, 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 2023 AIM Scholars Summer virtual experience.

Watch a Short Video About the Virtual Experience:

Other Expectations

AIM Scholars who are selected to participate in the virtual experience are expected to move into their residence hall on August 23, 2023, in advance of participating in a Leading Edge 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 W&L faculty and staff, 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. We look forward to receiving your application!