After joining college at 10, this 17-year-old has earned her doctorate

BY Preta Peace Namasaba May 17, 2024 11:48 AM EDT
Dorothy Jean Tillman II. Photo credit: Dorothy Jean Tillman II

While most of her peers were navigating middle school, Dorothy Jean Tillman II joined college at the age of 10. She completed her associate’s degree, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees in less than five years. At 17, she defended her dissertation and completed her doctoral study program, making her the youngest person to earn a doctorate in integrated behavioral health at Arizona State University.

“People in my life like my grandmother, who was part of the Civil Rights movement, of course, harped on the importance of education and consistently learning something always. But the way I always held education so high on my own, aside from being raised that way, was finding different things to be educated about. I feel like that urge to learn something new just didn’t exist for me,” Tillman explained the reason for her educational success.

Nicknamed “Dorothy Jeanius” by family and friends, Tillman did not realize that her achievements were extraordinary until she started receiving a lot of attention. She was homeschooled in her childhood and had the opportunity to learn at her own pace, which made education more enjoyable for her. Her mother enrolled her in classes at the College of Lake County in northern Illinois, where she majored in psychology and completed her associate’s degree in 2016. Tillman earned her bachelor’s degree from Excelsior University, an online degree program based in Albany, New York, in 2018.

Two years later, she earned her Master of Science from Unity College in Maine. Tillman was accepted into Arizona State’s Behavioral Health Management Program in 2021. She completed most of her classwork remotely and had her dissertation supervised through the university’s online program. Tillman wrote a journal article for her dissertation and completed an internship at a university student health center. She attended the commencement in person and addressed the graduating class during the ceremony.

“I got a chance to meet many of my classmates in person as well as professors. To get the opportunity to speak on the stage in front of 20,000 people live and 3 million online was truly an honor,” Tillman said about her commencement ceremony.

Tillman attributes her educational success to her mother and grandmother. Her grandmother, Dorothy Tillman, is a former Chicago Alderwoman and an important figure in the civil rights movement. She emphasized the importance of education to Tillman and inspired her to complete her graduate studies. With her mother’s support and encouragement, she was able to achieve all her academic aspirations.

In addition to her studies, Tillman makes time for social activities like dancing and choreography. She is the founder and CEO of the Dorothyjeanius STEAM Leadership Institute, which supports young people interested in arts and STEM subjects during school breaks. The institute offers summer camps designed to help young people develop their skills in these areas. Her future plans include public speaking engagements and fundraising money to expand her organization. She hopes to bring it to other places beyond Chicago and franchise one day.

“I’m really just grateful that the world is my oyster, and that I’ve done so much so young. And I have time to kind of think that through,” Tillman said of her future plans.