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United States | Chicago teen earns doctoral degree at age 17

By age 14, Dorothy Jean Tillman had obtained an associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degree. Despite the impressive achievements, Tillman remembers turning to her mother and saying, “I think I want to pursue a doctorate degree.”

Par panorama papers
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By David Newman

Her mother, Jimalita Tillman, was surprised. They were in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. And Dorothy was a year into launching a science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (Steam) camp startup, and she was looking for funding for the organization. She was busy.

“I was just like, ‘why?’ I thought you were done,” Jimalita told Cnn.

But after Dorothy explained that her mission was to positively impact young people when it came to their mental health, Jimalita understood and lent her support. Fast-forward two years, when 17-year-old Dorothy successfully delivered her dissertation. Now, at 18, she is officially Dr. Dorothy Jean Tillman after walking at Arizona State University’s College of Health Solutions convocation on May 8. Jimalita told Cnn that seeing her daughter achieve so much is humbling. “I knew what it took for her to go through that. She had to sacrifice a lot. A lot of her fears and going through different things during the pandemic,” she said. “She emerged as a leader without fear, showing them how to navigate online schooling.”

From a young age, Dorothy excelled in her academic pursuits. By age 7, she was already doing high school work. At that point, she started to take college level module tests and apply the credits toward higher education.

“It was always a very hard thing to kind of stomach mentally being so young. When you get out of college, you’re thinking, ‘what do I do next?’ Now I am able to sit in the comfortability of being a teenager and being OK with the fact that I don’t have to figure out what comes next,”

Dorothy said.

She studied integrated behavioral healthat Arizona State University.For her dissertation, she explored the stigma that prevents university students from getting mental health treatment. In addition to her school work, Dorothy also devotes her time to running the Dorothy Jeanius Steam Leadership Institute, which inspires hundreds of underserved young people in Chicago, as well as abroad in countries like Ghana and South Africa, to pursue Steam careers. The program includes guest speakers and open conversations around each of the five areas of Steam.

“I’ve been focusing on my studies a lot and I don’t go nearly as much as I should,” Tillman said. “Now I’m glad to have the time for things like that.”bWhile she has achieved a lot at her age, Tillman tells people it’s all about having a supportive family around her.

“It’s teamwork that makes the dream work,” she said. “It is a village that builds the land. It’s having those people there with you that is going to, you know, uphold you at the end of the day.”

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