Orange Alert

Strange Angels

Bridgette Werner '11 parlays honors capstone experience into a bilingual book of photography, writing

May 8, 2012, by Rob Enslin

Bridgette Werner and friend at the Stansberry Home in Santa Cruz, Bolivia
Bridgette Werner and friend at the Stansberry Home in Santa Cruz, Bolivia

When Bridgette K. Werner ’11 was planning her Senior Capstone Project for The Renée Crown University Honors Program, she knew she wanted to focus on global awareness. It didn’t take long for her to realize that the best idea was staring her in the face—more than 3,000 miles away.

For her project, Werner spent six weeks living and working at the Stansberry Children’s Home and Daycare Center in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. The experience culminated with the publication of a hardcover bilingual book of photography and writing titled "Strange Angels" (2011). Designed to raise awareness of and support for Stansberry, the book is on sale at the SU Bookstore.

“Children’s homes are all but obsolete in North America, but they are still prevalent in other parts of the world,” says Werner, speaking by phone from her home in Marcellus, New York. “Opening the doors of such places, and letting learning and understanding flow both ways can have effects that are mutually beneficial at home and abroad.”

One of the goals of the book, says Werner, was to paint an honest picture of life in a children’s home. “After working there, it struck me that it wasn’t really such a bad place to live,” she says, adding that Santa Cruz is home to approximately 75 such facilities. “The staff put a lot of heart and soul into the place, and worked to give the kids a home, not just somewhere to live."

Werner explains that although children’s homes are often synonymous with orphanages, the latter designation can be misleading. “Our daycare center, for example, addressed the needs of families who struggled with problems that could lead to abandonment or to loss of custody of their children,” she recalls. “Most of my kids weren’t orphans; they just had parents who were unable to or chose not to take care of them.”

The University Scholar first visited Santa Cruz in 2007, when an NGO-sponsored service experience enabled her to volunteer at Stansberry for 11 months, tutoring in the after-school program for low-income children. After transferring from York University in Toronto to SU, Werner enrolled in Honors, an all-University program administered by The College of Arts and Sciences. She made two more trips to Stansberry, the second of which was underwritten by a competitive Crown/Wise capstone award.

One of the dozens of photos from Bridgette's book, "Strange Angels"
One of the dozens of photos from Bridgette's book, "Strange Angels"
“I did most of my interviews and photography during the summer of 2010,” recalls Werner, a dual major in photojournalism and Latino-Latin American studies. “The award covered all my travel and production costs, so that at the end of the project, I was able to donate approximately 20 books to the children’s home.”

Hanna Richardson, associate deputy director of the Honors Program, says Werner’s book exemplifies the level of scholarship possible when students are adequately supported. “Too many of our students want to study abroad, but cannot afford to do so,” says Richardson, also one of Werner’s advisors. “When our students travel, they raise our global awareness, as well as their own. Then they graduate from SU with a heightened sense of political, economic, social, demographic, technological, and environmental understanding.”

Werner, who is fluent in Spanish, hopes to live and work abroad again. Recently, she has parlayed her capstone experience into working as a research assistant for Gladys McCormick, assistant professor of history at SU and an expert in modern-day Latin America. Werner has also been accepted into the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s graduate history program.

Global awareness, says Honors director Stephen Kuusisto, is one of six attributes that permeate the program’s curriculum and requirements. The others are breadth, collaborative capacity, civic engagement, command of language, and depth.

“We encourage students to study abroad whenever possible, and then we amplify that experience through academic coursework on campus,” he says, citing such courses as “Migrating Memories/Migrating Arts” (HNR 360/HNR 340/ANT 300) and “World Water” (HNR 250). “I am proud of how Bridgette seized these attributes, and opened doors to new serious research. In the process, she also became a more responsible global citizen."

Media Contact

Rob Enslin