Jewell helps motorists drive by the book

by Samantha Mosley, UNMC public affairs | August 04, 2006

picture disc.A speeding ticket. A head injury. A DUI (driving while under the influence). A spinal injury. Reckless driving. Internal bleeding. These are exactly what Lisa Jewell, director of the UNMC Youth Learning Center, is trying to prevent.

At her day job, she provides young people with hands-on experiences in hopes of them choosing careers in the health professions. However, at her part-time job, as an instructor for the National Safety Council Greater Omaha Chapter, she teaches people to be safe on the road in order to keep them from ending up in the hospital.

On various nights and some Saturdays, Jewell teaches a class of mostly teenagers how to be safe drivers. The class also is offered to adults trying to avoid the deduction of points on their driving record or for drivers who want better insurance rates.

"The main focus of the class is to remind drivers of the rules of the road," Jewell said. "We teach them that there are consequences when they take chances, how to avoid aggressive driving situations and how to make the roadways a safer place."

Before class begins, the students sit in their plastic chairs with scowling looks on their faces. Each one is dreading the four-hour Defensive Driving Class, which is one of five classes Jewell occasionally teaches. The students fear the infamous monotone-speaking instructor who has the ability to lecture for four hours without so much as a pause for a breath of air.

"I thought my instructor was going to be by the book and straight-laced," said John Melingagio, Girls and Boys Town public affairs director and former defensive driving class student.

Five minutes into the class, however, Jewell demonstrates that she is not the dull instructor the students were expecting.

"I expected to snuggle into my chair and nap for a couple of hours, but from the start, Lisa came out blazing," Melingagio said. "She got everybody interested and involved."

Jewell began this job three years ago as a source of extra income. Now, it is her passion.

"If I can get one of my students to slow down or not get into a car with a friend who has been drinking, than I have done my job," said Jewell, who once worked in the Saint Joseph Hospital (now Creighton University Medical Center) emergency room.

"I bring my firsthand experience to the classroom to show what happens when people take risks behind the wheel," she said. "I just don't stand up at the podium and lecture. I'm an interactive instructor and by sharing experiences and discussing them, the students learn from their mistakes."

By the end of the class, most students are leaning forward in their chairs, listening intently to Jewell. And, with eyes open and smiles on their face, they are ready to answer her next question.