Smart Home Head
Jim Gaston's passion is exploring the wonders of the watery wonders of the world. At any opportunity, he's off to the North Carolina coast, or Key Largo, strapping on the tanks, and swimming along underwater reefs or long-wrecked ships.
And he doesn't just dive for his personal pleasure, he teaches young people how to safely enjoy the sport he loves.
While the Home Depot Smart Home may be far from the ocean, Gaston feels that the many stops along his career path have prepared him to manage Pratt's live-in laboratory for young engineers-to-be or those with interests in sustainability. He replaces Tom Rose, a Pratt graduate who was one of the founders of the facility.
"The Smart Home gives me the opportunity to practice all three of my professional interests," said the easy-going Shelby, N.C. native. "I enjoy managing projects, marketing and of course engineering. The Smart Home provides a unique opportunity to explore all of them."
A mechanical engineer by training, Gaston has worked for businesses that manufacture industrial appliances, as well as tools and equipment for the automotive industry. These stints honed his engineering skills.
He even helped run a trade school in a small town in Haiti run by the Methodist Church. His wife, Jo-C, a public health nurse, also worked there. He taught local people such skills as woodworking, welding and carpentry. More hands-on work.
Though as an engineering graduate of North Carolina State University he sported the Wolfpack red, for the past eight years he's been wearing Duke blue at the Divers' Alert Network (DAN).
DAN, which started out in 1980 at Duke's hyperbaric center, has since grown into an international organization serving more than 200,000 divers with such services as diving safety programs, emergency medical services and dive accident insurance.
"One of my most fulfilling responsibilities was recruiting young people to become interested in scuba diving," Gaston. "Much of this was done on-line. Once we located someone who was interested in the sport, we'd match them up with a diving center or instructor close to them."
Though he didn't do much engineering at DAN, he got to market a sport he loves and recruit new converts. And though he didn't dive as part of his job at DAN, he headed to the water every chance he got.
"I started diving while at college at State, but didn't get to do much after I graduated," Gaston said. "One day, after returning to North Carolina, I was driving past an old quarry near Rollsville that had filled with water and I saw people scuba diving. I pulled in and haven't stopped diving since.
"For the past four years, we've taken groups of 50 students or more down to Key Largo in December and March for six days of diving," Gaston said. "We explore reefs and wrecks, and even do night dives. The fish are amazing down there. While I enjoy being under water, I get a great deal of satisfaction teaching young people how to get the most out of their diving experience."
Gaston sees one of his main roles as director as being a project manager, which he likened to herding cats. Or in his case, a school of fish.
"There are so many opportunities here for students and faculty," he said. "The trick is organizing things so everyone can get what they need. My job is to help get the resources, direct them to the right people and places, and help keep students and faculty focused on our goals. Within Pratt, there are many different interests and goals, and I have to figure out how to manage things so everyone is working in the same direction.
"The other big challenge is leveraging the potential of this unique facility to work on research projects and follow new ideas that may not be addressed by industry," he continued. "We should be able to take advantage of Duke resources to explore new ideas and try new things that will ultimately further the pursuit of sustainability."
Jim's wife is also an artist working out of her own studio in Durham, and his daughter Jamie is a college senior in graphic arts at his alma mater.