Dorothy Jean Tillman II: 17-Year-Old Ph.D. Running a STEAM Program

Dorothy Jean Tillman II Image Credit: Tillman Family

“I feel like that urge to learn something new just never didn’t exist for me.” –Dr. Dorothy Jean Tillman II

Called DJ by her family and friends, Dorothy Jean Tillman II grew up in Chicago as a gifted child prodigy. An enthusiast of both science and the arts, she was homeschooled from a young age by her mother, Jimalita Tillman, a single parent with a background in community theater. Jimalita taught her daughter on an accelerated track.

At the time, they lived with Jimalita Tillman’s mother, Dorothy Wright Tillman, a civil rights activist who had worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and was a Chicago alderman. Ms. Tillman is her grandmother’s namesake (hence the II at the end of Dorothy’s name).

Dorothy said her discipline and focus come from her grandmother, while her educational journey wouldn’t have been possible without the support from her mom whom she said has been one of her biggest motivators.

Education Timeline

By the time she was 8, Dorothy was taking dual enrollment high school classes.

While most 9-year-olds were learning math and reading, Dorothy was starting college online. She enrolled in classes at Stanford University Continuing Studies and Brigham Young University Distance Learning.

At 10, she earned her Associate Degree in Psychology at the College of Lake County in Illinois.

At 12, she received her Bachelor of Science in Humanities at Excelsior College in New York.

At 14, Dorothy earned a Master of Science degree from Unity College in Maine, where she double majored in environmental science and sustainable engineering.

At age 15, Ms. Tillman was accepted into the Doctorate of Behavioral Health Management program offered through ASU Online.

At age 17, Dorothy Jean Tillman II successfully defended her doctoral dissertation in Integrated Behavioral Health from ASU’s College of Health Solutions. Her research focused on the impact of implementing an outreach program aimed at reducing the stigma associated with the use of campus mental health services by college students.

Dr. Lesley Manson, a clinical associate professor at ASU, told “Good Morning America” that Dorothy Jean Tillman II is the youngest person in school history to earn a doctoral degree in Integrated Behavioral Health.

On May 6, 2024, Dorothy received her diploma at Arizona State University’s spring commencement ceremony.

“She has innovative ideas and motivation, which is wonderful, and truly, I think what is inspiring is that she embodies that meaning of being a true leader.” –Dr. Lesley Manson

Dorothy Jeanius STEAM Leadership Institute

Speaking to “Good Morning America,” Ms. Tillman said she has always held education in high regard in part due to her family’s background. In 2020, Tillman founded the non-profit Dorothy Jeanius STEAM Leadership Institute, which emphasizes STEM and the arts. She hosts STEAM labs, publishes STEAM children’s books, and speaks on topics aimed at inspiring youth in STEAM, especially in underrepresented communities.

“I feel like adding art and putting a focus on it throughout science, technology, engineering and math makes the kids excited to learn all those things,” she said. “And it opens them up to all of the possibilities and all the knowledge provided in that area of just STEM.”

Now that she’s graduated, Ms. Tillman plans to host her STEAM institute’s summer camp again. Then, she said, she plans to take a break and have a “fun, teenage summer,” doing things she loves such as reading, painting, and spending time with family. Tillman says that she is “just like any other teenager, still figuring out what my specific dreams and goals are.”

After that, the teen told PEOPLE she’s looking forward to the future, which hopefully includes plenty fundraising and partnerships for her Dorothy Jeanius STEAM leadership Institute. She also hopes to pass on a very important message to kids and families.

“I want to encourage parents to pour into the dreams of their children and for children to give themselves space to pivot when needed,” she said, adding that it’s important “not to be so locked in that they don’t get an opportunity to explore other options.”


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