As a young man, Jeremy Childress (MRM ’10) lived and worked on a dive boat in the Bahamas, learning to scuba dive among sharks and tropical fish. He indulged an intense interest in photography by spending hours in a darkroom and working in a camera shop. He loved technology. He earned an undergraduate degree in marine biology at Millersville College in Pennsylvania, spending summers at the college’s marine field station on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. He had an internship and then a job at a fish-focused pet shop, and another job at a pharmaceutical company that specialized in producing medications for pets.
Childress puts all of these interests and experiences to good use as President and CEO of The Sexton Co., a Salem-based company that designs and manufactures custom underwater housings for cameras and scientific instruments.
But it was something else, an almost-mundane challenge during his graduate research in the CEOAS Marine Resource Management program, that actually launched his career: A limited research budget.
When it came time for choosing a graduate program, Childress was happy to discover CEOAS’s MRM program. “I loved how multidisciplinary it is – I could take classes all over the university. I had a lot of different interests, and it seemed like a unique way to turn them all into one degree,” he says.
Childress balanced hard science and social science in his thesis project overseen by faculty members Kipp Shearman, Michael Harte and Flaxen Conway. He conducted outreach to Oregon commercial crabbers, helping deploy temperature and oxygen sensors on their crab pots to increase spatial coverage of water quality monitoring along the coast, information that would help those crabbers anticipate unfavorable conditions.
The budget challenge came when Shearman gave Childress a limited budget for purchasing oxygen sensors for the crab pot deployment project.
“With that budget I could buy maybe one sensor off the shelf. But if I could figure out how to build my own underwater housing, I could buy five,” Childress recalls.
He discovered tiny Sexton Co. online and worked with them to design watertight cases for his sensors, pinching pennies and enhancing his master’s project significantly.
“That was really eye-opening for me, to see that I could build this stuff myself, that I could make my own solution to a problem, and save money at the same time,” he says.
Childress kept in close touch with the company and its founder, Ken Sexton, as he finished his degree. Shortly after he graduated, he began working for Sexton first on a volunteer basis to learn the ropes and then as an employee. In short order, Ken Sexton, who was just about ready for retirement, realized that Childress would be the perfect person to carry on the company’s legacy. Childress stepped up to the presidency in 2015.
The Sexton Co. has taken on some high-profile projects, from local to international, in recent years. For Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, the company designed a SCUBA mask that encloses Snapchat Spectacles, glasses that allow the wearer to record what they are seeing and automatically upload videos to Snapchat. Other recent clients include Google and The Discovery Channel; Sexton has also served as a subcontractor for VRTUL, a company that makes virtual reality and 360 camera systems, including for an ABC “Good Morning America” broadcast. The company also does business routinely with academic institutions and agencies including Oregon State, University of Hawaii, Los Alamos National Lab, the Environmental Protection Agency, NOAA, NASA and the Department of Defense. Lately Childress is especially excited about moving into projects for the broadcast industry and working on products with more commercial potential.
Childress is committed to sharing his passion for marine technology with others, especially students. As the chair of the Oregon section of the Marine Technology Society, he helps organize seminars and marine technology summits. Both Sexton Co. and the Oregon MTS sponsored the 2017 National Ocean Sciences Bowl, a national quiz bowl-style competition for high school teams.
Childress offers this advice to those contemplating future education and career choices: “When an opportunity arises, even if it’s outside of your comfort zone, say yes. Try everything on the menu. You never know how you’ll mix those experiences in to the career you eventually follow.”
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