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 2024 Advanced Immersion and Mentoring Programs

The AIM Scholars Summer Program will be delivered in two formats in the summer of 2024.

  • The residential five-week experience will run from Sunday, June 16, to Saturday, July 20.
  • The virtual one-week experience will run from Monday, July 22, to Friday, July 26.

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 Sunday, May 5. Please note that the program leadership team will begin reviewing applications on Friday, April 19. 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 inventory and conversation, 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 function 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. 2024 projects are listed below.

Academic Immersion Project/FocusFaculty Mentor(s)Description
Project on the Sociology of Cynicism and Distrust Jon Eastwood Focus on exploring recent trends in cynicism and distrust in modern societies (distrust of other people and of public institutions). Students will work with Professor Eastwood to download, import to R, clean, and wrangle public opinion data (sources like the GSS or the WVS, among others) and explore relevant trends through visualization and some relatively straightforward statistical modeling. Summer Research Students and AIM Scholars will select a set of survey questions, ask a question about some measures of cynicism and distrust, and explore those measures' association, or lack thereof, with other individual and contextual variables.
Spider Silk Analysis and Circadian Genetics Nadia Ayoub Dr. Ayoub's Spider Team is interested in spider care, spider collecting, molecular genetics, biochemistry, or data analysis. Projects this summer will include behavioral and genetic analysis of circadian rhythms in spiders in collaboration with Dr. Toporikova, as well as spider silk protein biochemical analyses in collaboration with Dr. Friend.
Analytical Chemistry of Simple Sugars Connell Cunningham

Dr. Cunningham's project is related to sugars in food. Students will assist in the development of a method to derivatize simple sugars (i.e. sucrose, fructose, and lactose) for gas chromatography-mass spectrometry analysis. Dr. Cunningham also has experience working in industry, which may be of interest to an AIM scholar.

W&L History through Archival Records MacKenzie Brooks In this immersion experience, students will encounter W&L through its archival records. Library faculty and Office of Institutional History staff will introduce students to the history of the institution and to digital methods for analyzing and publishing archival material. AIM Scholars will join Summer Research Scholars in a group project to expand our digital research portals on major themes in W&L history. This summer, we'll be focusing on the topics of Athletics, Environment Grounds & Buildings, Military Life & Veterans (post-WWII), Latino/Latinas history & presence, Native American history & presence, and Scotch-Irish Founders. Students will learn how to scope and design a digital project, conduct research, use digital tools, and work effectively in a team. They will emerge as informed members of the campus community, capable of sharing W&L history, working on a research project, and deploying digital tools to answer scholarly questions.
Diversity and Taxonomy of Virginia Crayfish Paul Cabe Students in the Cabe Lab study the genetic diversity and evolutionary relatedness among populations of Virginia's (and nearby) crayfish to determine species identity and geographic range. 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. The work includes some fieldwork, lab work to extract DNA, build DNA sequence data sets, and software analysis of the data.
The Compassion Project Stephanie Sandberg The Compassion Project seeks to produce a series of six evocative short documentary films. Each film is set to explore a different facet of compassion-driven practices across various spheres of our culture. The films will capture tangible examples of the transformative power of compassion in many spheres of public and private life. These films will serve as both a testament and a toolkit by showcasing real-world scenarios where compassion-based approaches have changed lives. The hope is that viewers will be inspired to incorporate these practices into their lives as they engage with these narratives. In doing so, we can collectively weave a fabric of empathy and understanding, constructing a society that values the well-being and dignity of every individual, from cradle to grave. We will work as a team to create this film series with several Virginia Filmmakers, summer research students at W&L, and AIM students. This first summer (2024) will be the research and proof of concept development phase. AIM Students, in particular, will have the opportunity to learn filmmaking skills, research skills, and how to create the structure and narrative for a strong film.
Shenandoah Summer Publishing Beth Staples Shenandoah is a biannual literary magazine that publishes writers and artists of fiction, creative nonfiction, comics, poetry, and more from all over the world, including Pulitzer Prize winners and poet laureates. One of the oldest and most respected literary magazines in the country, Shenandoah, is about to celebrate its 75th anniversary. Shenandoah's blog and social media accounts feature all kinds of promotional content -- author interviews, videos, "Behind the Poem" essays, Instagram takeovers, and more. An AIM Scholar assigned to this project will work alongside two Summer Research Scholars and Shenandoah contributors to create and post content and to prepare for our anniversary celebrations. This is an invaluable experience for students to work directly with contemporary writers and to gain experience editing and designing content for the web and social media.
Circadian Clocks in Spiders Natalia Toporikova and Nadia Ayoub Circadian clocks in spiders exhibit a wider variation compared to those found in other animals, yet they are still capable of entraining to the 24-hour Earth cycle. To further investigate this phenomenon, we aim to simulate different day durations in order to determine the limits of their circadian rhythm. In order to carry out this experiment, we are seeking someone who is interested in collecting spiders and conducting research on spider locomotion. It is essential that this individual possesses a keen interest and a desire to learn data science, as data analysis will play a crucial role in interpreting the results of the experiment.
From Shakespeare to Sci-Fi Holly Pickett While working with Dr. Pickett and her Summer Research Students, the AIM scholars will be immersed in the topic, "From Shakespeare to Sci-Fi." They will develop greater confidence in their reading comprehension, literary interpretation, and discussion skills while having great conversations with the team as the project is developed. The experience will hinge on daily reading or watching, followed by team discussions about Shakespeare's Hamlet, Emily St. John Mandel's novel Station Eleven (2015), and the 2021 MAX limited series based on the novel. The experience will include a field trip to the American Shakespeare Center in Staunton to see a play.
Enslavement at Liberty Hall: Uncovering the Archaeology and Forgotton History of W&L's Iconic Back Campus Don Gaylord During the summer of 2024, 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.
Exploring Internet Censorship: A Self-Destroying Prophecy Taha Khan Internet censorship is a prevalent strategy employed by authoritarian regimes to control and restrict the flow of information accessible to their citizens. While governments may believe that their imposed restrictions effectively render certain content inaccessible, citizens frequently find ways to circumvent these barriers using various technological tools. This project aims to study the willingness of internet users to proactively pursue methods to circumvent censorship, evaluate the efficacy of these mechanisms, and understand the circumstances in which certain methods are preferred over others.
Personality Judgement Accuracy of Political Ideology and Stereotypes Jake Gibson Dr. Gibson's lab works on personality judgment accuracy of political ideology and LGBTQIA+ membership. He is also working with the Science of Magic Association Replication Project. Thus far, he has been making recorded videos of individuals' lives. He and his team plan to show these recordings to a second set of participants and ask them to rate their personalities. He and his team are also working on a project to begin to attempt to replicate some of the work from the Science of Magic Association.
Environmental Geochemistry Margaret Anne Hinkle The Environmental Geochemistry lab investigates contaminant remediation by both abiotic and biogenic minerals, with a special focus on the bioremediation of manganese and other heavy metals by biomineralizing fungi. Currently, Dr. Hinkle's research team will focus on coal mine and acid mine drainage remediation as well as dipping their toes into some PFAS or Rare Earth Element related work as they investigate using products from coal mine drainage remediation sites to extract rare earths from polluted sites.
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!
ChemTutor, Making a Bridge to College Chemistry OR Bioinformatics Kyle Friend In collaboration with Dr. Sara Sprenkle, Dr. Friend's lab is developing a web application to help students transition to college-level chemistry. The application is called ChemTutor, and it currently includes adaptive multiple-choice questions alongside instructional content. Our goal for the summer will be to update the instructional content and to make question feedback more tailored to student responses.

A second project involves bioinformatics to use viral genome annotations to build a custom gene assembly for search against the human single-cell atlas.
Experimental Studies of Erosion by Plucking Dave Harbor Professor Harbor's hydraulics lab will be working on the ability of water at a step to lift rocks and carry them away (aka plucking). Students will construct a flume in which to experimentally reproduce erosion by plucking and making runs with varying slopes, discharge, block shape and size, step height, and more. Each experiment will have video and instrumental analysis of turbulence, dye flow in the rock cracks, flow velocity, block motion, and water pressure in the rock cracks. Setup and analysis will involve construction, coding, and data analysis. "Engagement is more important than experience."
Impact of Pesticides on the Gut Microbiome of Tadpoles Leah Lanier Frogs provide a sensitive model system for studying the effects of environmental pollutants. Dr. Lanier and her team will investigate the impact of pesticides on the gut microbiome of tadpoles. In collaboration with Dr. Watson's Frog Squad, students will learn the basics of frog rearing and treating tadpoles with pesticides and will be required to dissect tadpole intestines. Students will then extract DNA from the gut samples and analyze the resulting data from microbiome sequencing.
Building a Better World: An Introduction to Ethics, Inequality, and Human Dignity Howard Pickett This immersion experience is for AIM scholars with an interest in understanding and addressing social problems in effective and ethical ways. Scholars will be introduced to the main moral and ethical theories used today to address social injustice and inequality. They will work with Dr. Pickett and his research team through seminar-style discussions to identify the forms and extent of harm experienced by individuals impacted by a particular social problem. They will identify one or more social structures that contribute to those harms and will argue for a particular social reform or intervention that promises to eliminate or mitigate these harms in ways that are effective and ethical, respecting the dignity of every person.

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 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 2024 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 21, 2024, in advance of participating in a Leading Edge trip. The purpose of 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!