Wednesday, November 28, 2018

A homecoming for Heritage of the Americas Museum's new executive director

Brittany Gardner
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 arrowheads.

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 volunteering.

 “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.”

For more information about the Heritage of the Americas Museum, go to .