BUILD Goes High-tech

Funded by a grant from West Pharmaceutical Services, Inc., students in Bethel's BUILD program receive iPads that enable connection, integration, and independence.

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

June 18, 2019 | 8:15 a.m.

Students use iPads to present in class

Students use iPads to do presentations in their Bible and Theology class in Bethel's BUILD program

A student in Bethel's BUILD program uses Google Calendar to see if there’s time to stop for coffee before her next commitment. Another checks homework assignments off of a to-do list using the app Wunderlist. One uses Facetime to tell his mom about his plans for the weekend. And David Kaetterhenry BUILD’19 checks the number of views on the “BUILD a meal” channel he started on YouTube after he fell in love with cooking in his Independent Living class.

These are all unofficial parts of Bethel’s BUILD program—a two-year residential program for students with intellectual disabilities—and fill moments between classes and other experiences. They’re interactions that keep students connected, on-task, and independent, and they’re all the result of a grant from West Pharmaceutical Services, Inc., designed to “support initiatives that have an impact on education in the community.”

The BUILD staff, with help from the Bethel Foundation, first applied for the West Pharma Grant in summer 2017 and was awarded funds for the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 school year. $10,000 in year one purchased iPads and OtterBox Defender cases for all students in the BUILD program, along with three Apple TVs for the BUILD office suite. $5,000 in year two funded a second set of iPads, for new students, as well as printed Think College resources for Bethel faculty, highlighting apps that help students at all levels improve specific life skills.

When students begin the BUILD program, they’re given a crash course about the features of their new iPads and how they interface with other students’. They’re shown how to access their textbooks. They’re shown how to use Adobe Fill & Sign to complete assignments and submit them to their professors. They get used to accessing their Bethel email, Google Calendar—which shows their classes, social events on campus, and which mentors are on staff and when—and group chats. From there, students personalize their iPads with stickers, load their personal contacts, and fill their home screens with photos of their families and their collections of other apps.

Students use the iPads as a safety tool, connecting with housing mentors to check in and out of campus. The iPads connect with the Apple TVs so professors, students, and BUILD staff can go over personal learning plans together, projecting a shared document on a large screen. The iPads also feature acccesibility settings so that students who have trouble reading can have assignments read aloud to them or use voice-to-text to dictate answers to homework questions. The Learning Ally app allows users to get electronic texts that are read aloud to students for most of their course textbooks.

Students in Bethel's University's BUILD program use iPads in class

Students use iPads in class

“They’re truly using this as a dashboard for life at Bethel. They use it in all of their classes, and have it with them day-in and day-out. But more than that, it helps them to have a lot of support but not be dependent on a person. That’s really important for someone who’s working toward independence. They’re able to do more on their own because of this technology.”

— BUILD Director Dawn Allen

Because students take the iPads with them when they graduate, the goal is to build a library of tools and resources for success at Bethel, but that will also serve students long after they graduate.

“Having an iPad here at Bethel has helped a lot with homework, to have everything all in one place digitally and to be able to respond to emails," says Tyler Sarff BUILD’19. "For fun I have also used the iPad to listen to music, stream sports, and for social a good way. This will also help me as I leave Bethel, to be able to have the iPad read things to me, which was also a helpful tool for me to use at Bethel."

The BUILD team hopes to renew the grant for a third year, to fund iPads for the next class of students and to provide Google Read and Write for the entire campus. The service has features like a word predictor, translator, and voice-to-text, and would benefit students in the BUILD program and consolidate some of the services they already use. But it would also benefit other Bethel students who speak English as a second language, have dyslexia or other language processing disorders, or simply want the convenience of voice-to-text and predictive typing.

“That would be a support for all professors to use principles of universal design for their classrooms. Products like Google Read and Write level the playing playing field and make content available to students at all levels of reading and language comprehension,” Allen explains. “With us being a Google campus already, it just makes sense.”

Become a BUILD Partner

Partnerships with corporations like West Pharmaceuticals—plus Bethel alumni and other independent donors—help keep the BUILD program affordable for students. Opportunities exist to supply scholarships, provide internships in local organizations, or sponsor specific events or other needs on campus. For more information about these opportunities, contact

More about BUILD