BUILDing Support for Students

Brady Tongen ’20 and 130 other Bethel students support the BUILD program as mentors, walking alongside students in every aspect of their college experience.

By Monique Kleinhuizen '08, GS'16, new media strategist

August 28, 2019 | 8:45 a.m.

Brady Tongen '20 is a mentor in Bethel's BUILD program. Here he's shown with students in the program, on a field trip.

Brady Tongen '20 and students in the BUILD program

With a few dozen students, the BUILD program makes up only a small fraction of Bethel's student body. But as was the vision for the program from the very beginning, its ripple effects are widespread. In BUILD, students with disabilities live and study alongside other Royals. They are a part of clubs and activities, live in residence halls, do internships, go to class, and are a vital part of the lives of other Bethel students, staff, and faculty. 

And besides the 30 or so students in the program itself, other Bethel students fill about 130 BUILD mentor positions, working directly with the students to ensure their safety and success in all aspects of the Bethel experience. 

Relational communication major Brady Tongen ’20 is one of them. He's part of the Student Activities branch of Bethel Student Government and a manager for the Student Telecommunications Admissions Representative (STARS) call team. Tongen loves supporting members of the Bethel community, from the time they first begin the application process to when they’re full-fledged Royals attending the many social events on campus. And as soon as he found out about the BUILD program, he knew it was another place he wanted to invest his time. But the first time he applied to be a mentor, he was turned down.

“Looking back, I realize I had a lot of learning to do,” he admits. But a friend reached out a few months later and mentioned that there were still openings on the mentor team. He applied, and the rest is history. “I had no previous involvement with individuals with disabilities. But this program taught me a lot about that population, about advocacy. It showed me that these students face challenges, sure, but it also showed me the great things these students are able to do. I knew I wanted to serve and build relationships with them, no matter what that looked like.”

He’s now working in three out of four types of BUILD mentor positions, walking alongside students in every aspect of their college experience. 

Housing mentors live in the students’ residence hall and are on call for a weekly 12-hour overnight as well as one weekend per month. They support students in independent living skills—like laundry, shopping, and cooking—and help them connect to campus events, clubs, activities. They also plan gatherings just for the BUILD community. Tongen likens being a housing mentor to being a resident assistant, checking in with students, planning events for them, and being around in case of emergency. 

Job mentors provide transportation to internships and sometimes work side-by-side with students as they complete tasks in their roles. Together, they focus on three overarching areas, explains BUILD Director Dawn Allen. “Development of communication skills, job performance and professionalism, and social skills,” she says. Last year, Tongen drove a second-year student to their internship each Saturday and Sunday. 

Student mentors attend BUILD classes and provide additional academic support, coordinating weekly study groups. They provide help with homework, if needed, and also work alongside students in independent study and work skills development. Tongen functions as a receptionist of sorts, greeting students and families as they visit the BUILD office and making sure there’s a steady supply of hot coffee. 

In their second year of the program, students in BUILD can also become social mentors, supporting first-year students as they get accustomed to life at Bethel and learn to live independently on campus. “This is one direct opportunity for our students to become leaders and be able to give back,” Allen adds. “Students grow so much in that first year—in terms of their confidence—and it’s a great way for them to be able to give back and support other students as they grapple with homesickness and the other things that come along with being a brand new student.”

Students and mentors on a field trip with the BUILD program

Students and mentors on a field trip with the BUILD program

Because he's involved in so many aspects of the program, Tongen has observed firsthand the transformation that happens in first-year students.

“The students change a lot through the course of the year, and even the mentors change!” he says. “In the beginning of the year, it’s a very professional relationship. Students are just trying to survive and get through the school year, to figure out how it works. As the year goes on, we get to know each other’s stories. I learn the great and not so great things about each student, and see them in their strengths and their weaknesses, just like they do to me. It’s a relational thing. We’re all on journeys, and walking alongside each other.”

These types of mutually beneficial relationships were a goal of the BUILD program from the very beginning. “I tell [the mentors] we could not have this program without them. They are the primary support for students. Also, they provide a natural connection to what it means to be in college,” Allen says. But she’s also noticed a profound effect on the wider Bethel community, far beyond the students serving directly with BUILD.

"BUILD has really broadened people’s understanding of diversity, but also their understanding of the beauty of the body of Christ. Everyone has a purpose. We don’t have to have the same strengths. We can each operate in our own strengths and learn from each other. I hear about people’s experiences with our students all the time ... they’re genuinely connecting and caring for others here at Bethel, too."

— BUILD Director Dawn Allen
Tongen says that as his first year as a mentor went on, there were weeks where he wouldn’t hear a peep from the students during his on-call evenings, and at first it worried him. “But I realized it wasn’t that they didn’t want to talk to me ... they had just become so independent!” Tongen says. Though he’s not sure what direction his career will take after Bethel, he’s spent this summer working at a camp for individuals with disabilities. And it’s entirely possible that because of his involvement with BUILD, he’ll seek out a similar role after graduation.

“When you think of the ministry Jesus did, you realize He always walked alongside those who were different from Him. He befriended people who were not typical in society, and made them feel so known and so loved. Individuals with disabilities face discrimination, things that others don’t go through. I want to love them so well, and show them that Jesus loves them, whether or not they have a disability. We’re all loved by the Lord!”

— Brady Tongen ‘20

Work in the BUILD Program. 

Student mentors are hired throughout the school year to support BUILD students in their residence halls, classes, and internships. Applications are accepted and roles are filled on a rolling basis, with part-time positions that can accomodate most schedules. For other volunteer and giving opportunities within the BUILD program, contact

Become a BUILD Mentor