17-Year-Old Chicago Teen Just Earned Her Doctorate Degree


by Veracity Savant

December 1, 2023

She just successfully defended her dissertation!

Dr. Dorothy Jean Tillman has always loved learning and achieved notable success in her studies. Her mother, Jimalita Tillman, said she was still a toddler when she noticed that she was really good with math. 

“My child care provider, Miss Mary, first noticed…Dorothy, I believe, started doing double digits by four or three, and we were really excited about the way she loved learning, ” Jimalita previously told reporters. 


That excellence continued throughout grade school, with Tillman entering high school at nine years old. At age 10, in 2016, she completed her associate’s degree at the College of Lake County. When she was 12 years old, she earned her bachelor’s degree from Albany’s Excelsior College. 

“There are some great things coming out of the south side of Chicago and this, my baby, is one of the greatest of them all,” her mom told reporters. 

But Tillman didn’t stop there. She took an interest in science, technology, engineering, art, and math-related (STEAM) fields, going on to pursue her graduate degree. When she earned her master’s at the age of 14 from Unity College, she decided she would help other kids interested in similar career fields. 


“I’ve been working on STEM labs for kids because I really want to go into the STEM-related field and work with kids. I love helping kids have bright futures. I feel like I’m here to make people happy and to help people find their purpose. I know I want to go into that field, but I’m definitely sticking on the path of my engineering degree. I might go back to school, but my plan is to be an entrepreneur and [use] my engineering degree,” said Tillman.

Now, she’s well on her way. Tillman successfully defended her dissertation this week, earning her doctorate of behavioral health from Arizona State University’s ASU College of Health Solutions. At just 17 years old, she is now officially Dr. Dorothy Jean Tillman, with plans to participate in commencement next May, Black Enterprise reports. 

“I’m happy to share that I’ve completed my Doctor of Behavioral Health studies…I have so many people to thank for supporting me on this journey, but for now, I’ll just say thank you to my No. 1 champion, my Mom,” Tillman wrote via social media.


In her research, Dr. Tillman focused “on the impact of implementing an outreach and education program aimed at reducing the stigma associated with using campus mental health services among college-aged students.” Her goal is to not only shine a light on the need for mental health support within educational facilities but also on how widely underserved many young people are as a result of associated stigmas. 

“Counselors in a lot of schools aren’t really up to par with what those students need or even if the counselors are very competent, there’s way too many students to help each one,” Tillman previously told reporters. 


In addition to her work, Tillman has also launched the Dorothy Jeanius STEAM Leadership Institute, aimed at utilizing her degrees in environmental and sustainable science to enhance the need for mental and behavioral health services that are school and community-based. She’s also doing the work to create pathways for underrepresented students looking for a career in the field. 

“The goal of the Dorothy Jeanius STEAM Leadership Institute is to create pathways for more underrepresented groups…through exposure and opportunities to lead. Diversity in STEAM industries brings together different perspectives, creates a better experience, and generates better results. [STEAM] is a broad educational program that spills over into many industries and technologies, affecting everyday life,” a statement on the organization’s site reads. 

Through Tillman’s org, she focuses on providing resources for both students and educators and recently launched the DJ STEAM summer camp to build critical 21st-century skills among youth. For more information about Dr. Tillman’s work, click here


Cover photo: 17-Year-Old Chicago Teen Just Earned Her Doctorate Degree/Photo by Dr. Dorothy Jean Tillman/@DorothyJeanius/Instagram

5 3 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments


Join the BOTWC newsletter for the latest in news & culture!

By clicking Submit, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

Newsletter Signup
Skip to content