The freshest news and views from the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District
Wednesday, November 28, 2018
A homecoming for Heritage of the Americas Museum's new executive director
Brittany Gardner was a student at
Avocado Elementary School when she fell in love with the Heritage of the
Americas Museum during a third-grade field trip. Less than 20 years after
that excursion, Gardner was recently named the museum’s new executive director.
“I remember it as being this big,
grand place with all these artifacts, an exhibit with rocks that glowed, I was
just amazed and in awe,” Gardner said. “I never dreamed at the time that I
would one day become the museum director.”
Located on the Cuyamaca College
campus, the Heritage of the Americas Museum is a cultural and educational jewel
packed with a vast collection highlighting the history and prehistory of the
Americas – from Maya painted bowls and wedding vases to jade burial suits,
ancient Peruvian art, saber tooth tiger skulls, and an abundance of fossils and
For Gardner, the third-grade field
trip planted the seeds of discovery that led to dual associate degrees from
Cuyamaca College and a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from San Diego State
University. Now pursuing an MBA and a certificate in nonprofit management from
the University of San Diego, Gardner, 27, was a natural fit to head the museum
after the retirement of longtime director Kathleen Oatsvall.
Gardner, who worked as an English
tutor at Cuyamaca while attending SDSU, began volunteering at the museum after
earning her bachelor’s degree in anthropology in 2014. Administrators were so
impressed with her passion as a docent and marketing guru that the board of
directors created a new paid position for Gardner within weeks after she began
“She brought technology to the
museum, she introduced us to social media, and she built a new website,” said
administrative assistant Lynn Rosen. “Attendance shot up and people were coming
in from all over the place.”
As executive director, Gardner
directs and oversees all aspects of running the museum, including managing a
small paid staff and more than 40 volunteers.
That a third-grade field trip to
lead a student on a path to become director of the museum would bring a smile
to Heritage of the Americas late founder, Bernard “Bud” Lueck.
Lueck’s passion for ancient
artifacts began while he was growing up on the family farm in Oshkosh, Wis.,
and collecting arrowheads as he followed his father’s plow. By the time he was
a teen, he was accompanying the local museum on archaeological digs. His
collection grew substantially over the years and, working with former Cuyamaca
College President Samuel M. Ciccati, Lueck opened the Heritage of the Americas
in January 1993.
Lueck determined the museum’s focus
would include catering to grade-school field trips because his interest in
antiquities began as a child. Over the years, the museum’s collection has
expanded significantly with donated artifacts.
Gardner said education will remain
a focus but noted that field trips no longer solely target area elementary
schools. She recently collaborated with the Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park
for an overnight outing that attracted more than 40 middle school girls, she is
expanding the museum’s outreach through online advertising and social media,
and she has her sights set on digitizing the museum’s extensive collection and
marketing the resource to Cuyamaca College professors and their classes.
“Brittany is absolutely amazing –
very tech savvy, excellent with web design and marketing, wonderful at
organizing tours for the school system, skilled at grant writing, as well as an
adept team player and leader,” said Cuyamaca College English Professor and
longtime mentor Marvelyn Bucky.
Gardner couldn’t be happier.
“This museum is a community,” she
said. “Everybody who works here and volunteers here has a passion for the
Heritage of the Americas. We are a family, a very close-knit family, that wants
to see this museum flourish. It’s my job to help see that happen.”