Former Lee student invents gas safety device

For Marisela Payne, “necessity [has always been] the mother of invention.” A single mother with three children, she spent nearly two decades transforming herself from an unlikely Lee College student into a successful plant operator. Now she’s doing it again, this time taking on the role of inventor and future college instructor.

It’s a journey that started in 1995, with a simple goal: Get a good job.

“As a single parent with three kids,and very little education, I needed to find a way to provide for my family,” Payne explained. “I didn’t just want a job; I wanted something stable.”

To accomplish her goal, Payne enrolled in Lee College’s Project LeeWay, a program that helps low-income students get a start at college.

“I will be the first to say that I barely made it through [Lee College],” she said, laughing. “The courses themselves were challenging, but I had the additional responsibility of caring for my children. It would have been easy to drop out, but the instructors kept me going.”

Thanks to this encouragement, Payne was able to successfully earn a certificate in the ExxonMobil Process Technology Program and begin a career as a plant-operator, a position from which she recently retired. But for her, retirement did not mean sitting still.

“As a plant operator, I learned about the importance of safety,” she explained. “One of the challenges we faced is monitoring the flow of nitrogen, which can be very dangerous. I just felt there had to be a better way.”

Payne worked with colleagues and the Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program (SATOP), to invent a prototype for a new visible sight flexible gas flow indicator, which allows workers to easily see from a distance where a gas may be flowing or leaking, thereby reducing their risk of exposure.

With the support of her former process technology instructors, Payne was granted permission to test her invention on the college’s process training unit. She is now applying for a patent for her prototype, which she plans to sell in an effort to finance further inventions as well as her continuing education.

“My new goal is to teach at Lee College,” she explained. “I want to help students the way the instructors have helped me. When I first came here, I just wanted a job. But I found a career and my calling instead.”