FAIRMONT - One could say Ted Kautzmann and Tim Dahlin are the ultimate telecommuters. The local men work 3,600 miles from their organization's headquarters in Costa Rica, providing online coursework for students spread across 19 countries.
Kautzmann serves as dean of students and Dahlin as trainer for ProMETA, an online training program for evangelical leaders in Spanish speaking countries. ProMETA is the Spanish acronym for "Accessible Master's Programs in Theological Studies."
Formerly known as the Latin American Training Network, or LATN, the school caters to leaders currently serving in ministerial positions.
For eight years, Kautzmann, Dahlin and instructors in nine other countries have offered masters degrees in biblical theology and Christian leadership to students using 100 percent online curriculum.
Dahlin spent years living with his family in Venezuela before returning to the United States with the intention of continuing his ministry with Spanish-speaking people. He was intrigued by the institution's ability to live in one place and have an impact in another.
"You could be snowed in in Minnesota and be teaching online to students in Latin America," he said.
Kautzmann said many of ProMETA's students come to the school later in life - the average student age is 43 - often with responsibilities that make traditional schooling a challenge.
"They already have a family, a mortgage," Kautzmann said. "Now they are in charge of a church."
These leaders often already have college degrees, but need training in Christian leadership without the time and expense of moving to go to school. Dahlin said most of the students take only one or two courses at a time, so earning their master's degree can take several years.
"I've come to see how it has been effective," Dahlin said. "They are all very active in ministry. They are in our class and then practicing what they learned on the weekend."
ProMETA began to form years ago when Kautzmann was living in Venezuela, working with a different organization creating materials for distance education. When his wife was diagnosed with cancer, the family moved to Michigan for her treatment, and Kautzmann began working on a feasibility study for healthy leadership in Latin America.
That was in 1998. Today, ProMETA has 70 students from all over the world. But the distance doesn't seem to be a significant hurdle for the students.
Kautzmann said he is surprised at how easily the students are able to work together, even with one Spanish student getting up at 2 a.m. to participate with his fellow students.
"It is a very rich environment," Kautzmann said. "We've really built relationships. It is really more tight than you would think online."
One reason for the bond could be the intensity of the material.
"There are students from many countries wrestling with the material and also sharing from their experience," Dahlin said. "It is really fun to see them engage. This is not something they are storing in their minds. They are using it."
Kautzmann agrees, saying, "It is not just information download. They really need to grapple with it. They think differently when they come out of a course."
Kautzmann and Dahlin feel being part of the community is vital for both the students and faculty with ProMETA, and both men work extensively with the local Hispanic community.
For more information about ProMETA, visit www.latn.org