MILL VALLEY, Calif. (BP)—If, in the San Francisco Bay area, you spot a Coast Guard helicopter, the pilot helping keep the skies safe might be Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary student Ryan Hawn.
Coast Guard pilot Hawn flies a helicopter over the Golden Gate Bridge several times a week, while five miles away his fellow students at Golden Gate Seminary attend classes. Although Hawn has never attended classes at the Northern California campus, he is enrolled in an online master of theological studies courses through the seminary’s eCampus program.
Hawn, 27, has always been eager for education. In high school, he signed up for a dual-enrollment program with the local community college. After graduation, he attended the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut, where he earned a mechanical engineering degree and was commissioned as an officer. He then went to flight school and in 18 months graduated with his pilot’s license. In June 2007, Hawn had earned his wings and was sent to the San Francisco Bay area for his first duty station.
That wasn’t the end of his education, however. When Troy Jacobson, associate pastor at Coastside Community Church in Pacifica, Calif., learned Hawn wanted to “dive more intentionally into the Word,” he recommended Golden Gate Seminary’s eCampus program, in which Jacobson also was a student.
During the day, Hawn flies an MH65C Dolphin short-range recovery and multi-mission helicopter, joined by a crew of four whose main missions involve search and rescue, homeland security, and training.
In the evenings, Hawn leaves his noisy helicopter and settles in to study theology and share ideas and opinions with the 19 members of the online class in which he currently is enrolled.
“We engage each other regarding the material we’re reading,” the Florida native said. “We’ve developed a community among ourselves, and there are many ways to interact with each other as we study.” Hawn listed the variety of interactive learning options, including weekly online forums, live chat sessions with professor Rick Durst each Thursday at 5 p.m., video posts on YouTube, a weekly visual lecture, study guides and quizzes.
“I like to get my postings done early in order to get a thoughtful response from my classmates,” Hawn said. He noted how the online discussion forum enables everyone “to say exactly what they think. The format allows everybody a chance to be heard without anyone dominating the conversation.” The group is learning together and helping each contemplate the questions, he said.
Currently taking Christian Theology II, Hawn said he would choose the online format even if he had the time to attend class.
“This gives me lots of opportunity for self-study and fits into my schedule, regardless,” Hawn said. “It’s an excellent experience and a very legitimate way to learn. I can get a master’s degree and go to seminary!”
Golden Gate Seminary’s fully accredited eCampus program has been available since 2006 through a partnership with The Learning House, which helps colleges and universities offer and manage their online degree programs.
“Golden Gate Seminary created the eCampus program to deliver accredited theological education and leadership skill development to those already established in their ministry setting,” said eCampus director Rick Durst.
The seminary’s online degree programs are designed for adult learners who want to study at their own pace from anywhere in the world. More than 40 hours of courses are offered annually in 10- to 15-week semesters. All credit hours are transferable to any higher education institution and require no visits to a campus.
Phyllis Evans is director of communications for Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (www.ggbts.edu), a Cooperative Program ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention that operates five fully-accredited campuses in Northern California, Southern California, Pacific Northwest, Arizona and Colorado.