Teenager beats odds, earns Doctorate at 17

Dr. Dorothy Jean Tillman. (Courtesy)

At just 18 years old, Dorothy Jean Tillman has achieved what many adults only dream of – a doctoral degree. But her journey wasn't without its challenges.

By the time she was 14, Dorothy had already bagged an associate's, bachelor's and master's degree, according to CNN.

She was even busy running a science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) camp startup during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I thought you were done," Dorothy's mother, Jimalita Tillman, told CNN, surprised by her daughter's desire to pursue a doctorate.

However, Dorothy was determined to make a positive impact on young people's mental health.

She began her doctoral studies at Arizona State University with her mother's unwavering support.

Two years later, at the young age of 17, Dorothy successfully defended her dissertation. This accomplishment officially made her Dr. Dorothy Jean Tillman after graduating from ASU's College of Health Solutions in May 2024.

Jimalita, filled with pride, spoke to CNN about the sacrifices her daughter made during her studies.

"She emerged as a leader without fear, showing them how to navigate online schooling," she said.

Dorothy's academic journey began much earlier. By age 7, she was already excelling in high school work and taking college-level courses.

"It was always hard being so young," Dorothy told CNN. "Now I am able to finally relax and enjoy being a teenager."

Her doctoral research focused on the stigma surrounding mental health treatment among college students.

In addition to her studies, Dorothy is passionate about inspiring young minds. She runs the Dorothy Jeanius STEAM Leadership Institute, which helps underserved youth in Chicago and abroad pursue careers in STEAM fields.

"We want to provide them with all the resources they need to succeed," Dorothy said.

Despite her remarkable achievements, Dorothy highlights the importance of family and friends. She credits her mother as a constant source of motivation. Her grandmother, a civil rights activist who worked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is another inspiration.

Now that she has graduated, Dorothy has her sights set on expanding her STEAM camps and putting her knowledge of integrated behavioral health to work.

She also hopes to spend more time with family in Africa.

"It's all about having a supportive network," Dorothy says. "It takes a village."


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