Full steam ahead: Online degree propels Navy student toward next stage in life


With only seven months left in the U.S. Navy, Arizona State University undergraduate Adam Villanova is elated and grateful as he comes to the successful end of a winding journey to earn his bachelor’s degree this semester.

His path placed him first as a traditional student at the University of Louisville where he completed two years before deciding to put college on hold to enlist in the Navy and begin a new stage in life. Villanova returned to college in 2017 by enrolling in ASU Online.

Now the Louisville native, double majoring in religious studies and history with the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is looking forward to life after the military as he heads to graduate school in the Midwest on a full ride with the University of Missouri.

“I am really looking forward to going back to school on campus,” said Villanova, who plans to student-teach at Missouri.

Villanova admits that whether you are on online student or on campus, there are benefits to both methods. He enjoys being around other students and taking part in the social aspects of the “brick and mortar” campus experience.

“I really like that camaraderie,” said Villanova, who is currently based in Hawaii but will take time off to participate in commencement activities. “I guess that’s kind of what I like about the military too.”

As a military member, husband and father, Villanova appreciates the flexibility his online degree gave him and the support from the online team.

“If I am working a 12-hour shift, I don’t have to worry about going to class at a certain time during that day,” Villanova said. “I can just do my classwork afterwards.”

Understanding professors and a first-class team of advisors and success coaches made for a positive online experience, Villanova added.

“My adviser was great,” he said. “Whenever I needed him he was always there for advice on what classes to take or how I should proceed with the goals that I had. My success coach was also there and she was always good to me and helped me stay focused on class. She was really good about reaching out.”

Here Villanova provides more insight about his college experience and thoughts on other topics.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field?

Answer: That one moment that I knew that religious studies was what I wanted to pursue, happened in my freshman year at the University of Louisville. I was in my world religions class, and realized that I didn't know people as much as I wanted to. I wanted to understand people, and to do that, I needed to know more about how they believed. By studying their religion, I could better empathize with people around the world.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: My perspectives changed with every class I took. It was fascinating, truly. One of the more dramatic shifts happened in my religious studies capstone class when I chose to do my research paper on the life of the founder of the Sikh religion. Seeing how different the lives and beliefs of those halfway around the world was incredible. I loved my entire journey at Arizona State.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because of the reputation that it had with making sure their veteran students were taken care of. I needed a support system at school as well as out, and my family covered the latter. Having my adviser and success coach by my side, and my understanding professors there the entire time I was going through my classes was impressive and very much needed.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A:  Dr. Joel Gereboff hands down taught me the most important lesson I could have learned in any four-year institution. I had hit a roadblock in my writing process in which I was completely overwhelmed with my subject matter for a research paper. I could have turned my original idea into a full-blown doctoral dissertation, given the time and chance. Dr. Gereboff taught me that I needed to look at my surroundings and to prioritize my tasks. This was another big shift in my perspective of the world, and let me slow down enough to choose a more appropriate topic to write about.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Get out of your way. You are going to succeed as long as you allow yourself to do so. Do not let your own doubts keep you from being the best version of yourself.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I still have about 7 months left in the Navy. After I separate from the military, I have already been offered a full ride to the University of Missouri, complete with a Graduate Teaching Assistantship. I have already accepted both, so I will be finishing my last few months in the Navy, then moving to Missouri to begin my graduate work and to start my career in collegiate teaching.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Every cent of the $40 million would go toward ending hate. Money would not solve this problem, but educating people about others would do wonders to abate it. Developing and disseminating a program that allows people to learn about other people and their religion will hopefully move us in the right direction to opening the eyes of those filled with hate. 

Top photo: Adam Villanova poses with his wife, son and mother after the ASU Veterans Honor Stole Ceremony Dec. 8, 2018, held on the Tempe campus. Photo by Jerry Gonzalez/ASU

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