Adan Villeda ’23 is a chemistry major from Chicago who graduates this weekend with plans for graduate school, where he will pursue a master’s degree in Notre Dame’s ESTEEM (engineering, science, and technology entrepreneurship) program. He’s also someone who recently completed a 300-level invertebrate biology course without the prerequisites, not the usual distribution choice for a second-semester senior.

“I was just trying to expose myself to something new,” he said, “and taking advantage of the liberal arts.”

Villeda was interested in an immersion course when thinking about his final semester. The choices came down to the biology course and a Classics offering. A course rooted in science would be more familiar, but there were adjustments ahead.

biology students doing fieldwork
Adan Villeda ’23 (left) and Ben Jansen ’24 explore tidal pools near South Water Caye, Belize.

Eric Wetzel, the biology professor who teaches BIO 322, had to think through the course and how to reposition the material so it could connect with Villeda. When there are students in the class who don’t have the same knowledge backgrounds, Wetzel said it can be harder to provide the needed context.

“It forced both of us to readjust ourselves a bit,” Wetzel explained. “To have the flexibility to try and make it happen is important. An immersion course is a special opportunity. I’m grateful the College was able to accommodate that.”

Wetzel knew he could identify specific points of interest for Villeda, who has a long-term interest in pharmaceuticals and cancer research. The point is to meet the student where he is.

“Sometimes, you have to build the house in a different way,” Wetzel said. “It’s cool to be able to weave his own expertise into the material. That enriches the experience throughout the course for everyone.”

Villeda’s effort impressed other students in the class.

“Adan is a very intelligent guy,” said Ben Jansen ’24, a biology major, “He’s taken in so much information and will be able to use that for a long time. It’s super cool to witness.”

Even though it’s one of the hardest classes he’s taken, Villeda appreciates the experience.

Wabash College student snorkeling
Adan Villeda ’23 (right) snorkels on an immersion trip in Belize.

“It’s definitely been a challenge,” he said. “I like that it pushed me. The class made me want to work as hard as everyone in it. We went through this together.”

Villeda and his classmates traveled to Belize for a week of studies along the world’s second-longest coral reef. It was just the adventure he was looking for. “Wabash is known for immersion trips, and I wanted to get the full experience,” said the Snodell Scholar. “We were able to have an educational spring break, but at the same time, have a lot of fun. I thank Dr. Wetzel for allowing us to do that. Everything we did was fascinating to me. Snorkeling every day at different locations, we were able to almost absorb the reef. It’s a whole different world there.”