Driving Toward Dreams

Mon Aug 9, 2021 at 08:39 AM

JJ Kelley in Schneider Truck

As a successful painter, photographer, and drone cinema artist with her own blog and vlog, Jo Lynn Kelley (JJ) was looking for a way to expand her career to include her passions in artistry while allowing her to travel the United States.

“I’m an artist by trade, career, and hobby, and that’s what I was doing about a year leading into this career change,” said JJ. “I was basically driving around the U.S. – that’s what led me to truck driving, so now I get paid and I’m still able to continue my hobby and love of art.”

When looking to begin her new career in truck driving, JJ compared her experience to Goldilocks and the Three Bears. She initially explored a paid CDL program, which would’ve allowed her to train with a mega-carrier in return for her employment during a required amount of time, however, JJ decided that wasn’t the right path for her, so she embarked on the education route.

“That’s when I started looking at the schools and I picked three – one of them was down in Roanoke, the other was a driving academy, and the third was Blue Ridge Community College. The second one just wanted to book an intake appointment for me, the first one, down in Roanoke, only wanted me to fill out the financial forms, but I was just trying to see what was offered at both,” said JJ. “Then I came to BRCC, met with Jim Butler and had an absolutely delightful and intelligent conversation about the industry. He set basically no time limit on our chat and I was able to get so much information. Then, when we finished, he let me know who to talk to about grants and moving forward – but it wasn’t a pushy thing. So, just let Goldilocks, the third school, BRCC, was the perfect fit.”

JJ enrolled in the January 2020 Transportation & Logistics program at Blue Ridge Community College, where she attended four weeks at a full-time capacity. Her professor, Jim Butler, describes her as a “star graduate” of the program, but JJ credits the versatility of her professors to her own success.

“All the value ads that this school has are phenomenal, and what I mean by that is the instructors that BRCC hires in this program, have an edge that a lot of other professors don’t have in or outside of this industry. They have the ability to teach to the student they are teaching to. I had the uncanny privilege of seeing that firsthand,” said JJ. “When we were out in the range, I had two co-students – it was three of us in the truck. I learn best when I read and do things independently. The other driver in the truck was another woman, and she learned best when the instructor points things out to her and she is able to ask questions. The third driver in the truck had English as a second language, but the marvelous thing was, our professor, Doug, was able to teach to each and every one of us on our own level. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much diversity in one little setting like that - and the teaching versatility was remarkable to watch. Instead of just having an instructor expect your learning style to match the way they teach, it’s tailored to the way the student learns.  And I think that’s brilliant.”

After completing the program, obtaining her license, and graduating from BRCC, JJ was hired as an over-the-road long-haul driver for Schneider. During her time with the company, she experienced an accident first-hand. As JJ approached a lighted intersection on a four-lane highway bobtail, traveling through Oklahoma, a pick-up truck sideswiped her tractor. Throughout the nerve-wracking situation, she was able to remain calm and professional.

“One topic in particular I can speak to was ‘Emergencies’ and learning how to act in an emergency situation. The way I was able to be so composed, get out my triangles, make sure the vehicle is in a safe location, four-ways on, call 911, getting out on the safe side of the truck, all these things that I did methodically and calmly were due to the teachings from BRCC, that I learned at BRCC,” said JJ. “You never think that you’re going to want to have to use that information, but it was taught so well that I was able to check all of those items off and handle the situation extraordinarily professionally. I was able to remain very composed because of how I was taught at BRCC.”

As she continues her career, JJ still enjoys her hobbies in art. Not only does she post to her blog and vlog, called BlueJImagery.com, regularly, but she has also published a book detailing her adventures as a driver. To make her readers feel as if they are experiencing the book first-hand, JJ includes QR scan codes that can be scanned with a phone and links to videos she made with drone cinema and photography. The book is titled, “Truckin’ with JJ, My First Year: Breaking into the Industry.” She has been working on a sequel to the first book, which is expected to be published this year.