When Jon Dudas first went to work for the U.S.
Employee Q&A: UA Visitor Center Director Heather Lukach
She helps promote the University as a Tucson-area tourist destination.
Name: Heather Lukach
Title: Director, UA Visitor Center
Number of years at the UA: 17
Favorite thing about working at the UA: I like the community. I just love the U of A community ... the people and the campus.
Favorite part of campus: The west University, the west part of campus. The old historic part of campus. The first 40 acres that are west of Old Main, and the olive grove area. ... I also like the newer parts of campus, especially the Optical Sciences building; I think that is a really cool place.
Armed with a degree in hotel and restaurant management from Northern Arizona University and experience working in the UA Office of University Events, Heather Lukach has overseen some big changes and big events at the UA Visitor Center since assuming leadership there nearly 10 years ago.
When she began working there in 2003, the center still occupied a storefront in Main Gate Square, next door to Pei Wei Asian Diner. Two years later, the center moved into the building at 811 N. Euclid Ave., on the northwest corner of Euclid and University Boulevard, that had once housed a Two Pesos Mexican restaurant.
The move greatly increased the Visitor Center's visibility, with a corresponding increase in foot traffic, Lukach says.
In 2006 and 2007, the center partnered with faculty, Facilities Management, the West University neighborhood and several students to install rainwater cisterns on site.
"We were one of the first buildings on campus to have solar panels," she said.
The eco-friendly features on a such a visible UA building speak well for the campus, Lukach says, and have led to one of the Visitor Center's expanded offerings: the Sustainability Tour, which showcases some of the UA's other environmentally friendly buildings and programs.
The small Visitor Center team has also learned to work well under pressure: Last year, when President Barack Obama visited the UA following the Jan. 8 shootings on Tucson's northwest side, the Visitor Center was the central location for media to pick up their credentials.
So the Visitor Center, which normally has about five people working at a time and sees 50 to 70 people walk through its doors each day, called all hands on deck, bringing in about 20 people to service about 1,000 people who came through on the day the president was here.
"We managed," Lukach says as she reflects on the chaos of that time. "We were hopping .... And basically, we just kept it going; we were nonstop. We ordered pizza and took shifts to come and have a slice of pizza."
Lukach recently took some time to talk to Lo Que Pasa about the Visitor Center's programs and some of the things she's most proud of.
How did you come into this position?
I worked for (the Office of) University Events, and at the time there were two coordinators, but they also needed a Visitor Center person, so I was assigned this position, to be the Visitor Center director.
How long ago was that?
I believe that was in 2003. We were a little storefront located next to Pei Wei (on University Boulevard). That’s where my first Visitor Center was. ... This property became available (after a series of restaurants occupied it); I believe we moved in here in 2005.
What does your job entail?
I manage the daily operations of the Visitor Center and the programs. Wendi (Rountree) is my colleague here and she is our program coordinator, and we also have a team of part-time students that work the front desk. We do tours, walk-ins, emails and electronic inquiries, give a lot of directions. ... This is a much better location (than the previous one).
What other programs does the center offer?
We have the Middle School Tour program. ... Those are every Friday during the fall and spring semesters. We actually have a group of middle school tour guides, volunteer students who take middle school students around campus. And they give them a little Mall-crawl tour and talk about the importance of planning for college and give them information about the university. ... We have the Docent Tour program. We do various special events that are assigned by (the) administration .... I also work with the president's skybox, ticketing and planning for the president's skybox and also any sort of postseason athletic events for the president also.
Tell me about being a Certified Tourism Ambassador.
Certified Tourism Ambassador is ... a national program but Tucson is one of the locations where you can become a tourism ambassador for the entire region. It's kind of neat because some of the other things we do are partner with the Tucson area, because we attract visitors of all kinds and sometimes they come to the Tucson area, but we also have them come on campus because campus is a destination. And since campus is a destination we also partner with the other Tucson tourism (people), MTCVB (Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau) Certified Tourism Ambassadors to promote the region as a whole. ... So as a visitor center we not only see incoming students and people who are here just for the U of A. We see a variety of visitors. We see retirees, people coming from Green Valley, SaddleBrooke. They come here as a destination. They come here just to see the campus. ... We have amazing attractions! We have the Arizona State Museum, (the Center for) Creative Photography, the entire campus is an arboretum. So we promote the campus as a destination.
What kinds of things have you implemented since you’ve been in charge that you’re most proud of?
I think the fact that we have evolved, because I think that is one of the hardest things for a Visitor Center .... We used to have a single kind of tour, which was a historical tour. But since then we have evolved to partner with the UA Museum of Art, and we offer a tour of public art. We have a Campus Arboretum tour, a "Things to Do at the U" tour. In that way we have evolved, and the Middle School Tour has really taken off, and Wendi and I are really proud of that. The other thing I am proud of is the communication. I have worked to have communication between all the attractions and our unit, and that is huge. ... We have a group called the Visitors Service Network, and we try to meet quarterly, and in between we always email each other and maintain good communications about things they are implementing for tourists and we can help promote (those). ... It’s one of the biggest challenges, keeping up with all the changes on campus and being able to relay those to our visitors.
In the spring semester, the Visitor Center sent out a survey to the campus community about the services it offers. How are you going to focus programs going forward?
I think what I’m going to do is put a group together on campus to really talk about the survey results and get more input from our colleagues on campus also. It's kind of still a work in progress. ... It was good timing to do the survey because it kind of coincides with the streetcar, so we can see where we are, where we are duplicated and where we can improve.
What sort of opportunity does the streetcar present?
Oh, it’s going to be great. We are really excited about it. We are just grinning through the construction. We really think it's going to be great because there is a stop over by Gentle Ben’s (a short walk down University Boulevard from the Visitor Center). ... We won't have to worry about parking or getting a bus (to come) here, that sort of thing. It's going to be pretty neat. We are looking at evolving, trying to utilize the streetcar in showcasing the campus. Very exciting.