Chicago Teen Makes History as The Youngest Person in The US to Earn a Doctoral Degree

Last updated on Jun 12, 2024

Posted on Jun 12, 2024

On May 6, 2024, Dr. Dorothy Jean Tillman II walked across the stage at Arizona State University, marking a significant milestone as the youngest person in the United States to earn a doctoral degree. This remarkable achievement is the latest chapter in the educational journey of this extraordinary Chicago native, who began taking college classes at the tender age of 10.

Tillman's academic accomplishments began with her enrollment in the College of Lake County, where she majored in psychology and completed her associate degree in 2016 at age 9. By age 11, she had earned her bachelor’s degree in humanities from Excelsior University, followed by a master’s degree in science from Unity College in 2020. At just 15 years old, Tillman was accepted into ASU’s doctoral program in integrated behavioral health, and she successfully defended her dissertation in December 2023, becoming the nation’s youngest Doctor of Behavioral Health Management.

Leslie Manson, an associate professor at ASU who oversaw Tillman’s dissertation, praised her mentee, stating, “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.”

Known affectionately as "Dorothy Jeanius" by her family and friends, Tillman’s journey is a testament to her family's support and guidance. Her mother, Jimalita Tillman, enrolled her in college classes at an age when most children are just navigating middle school. Her grandmother, former Chicago Alderwoman Dorothy Tillman, also played a pivotal role in nurturing her educational aspirations.

Despite her accelerated academic path, Tillman acknowledges the sacrifices she made along the way, missing out on typical school experiences like homecoming dances and spirit weeks. However, she found solace and joy in dancing and choreography, balancing her rigorous studies with her passion for the arts.

In addition to her academic achievements, Tillman is the founder and CEO of the DorothyJeanius STEAM Leadership Institute in Chicago. This institute provides pathways for disadvantaged youth to pursue their dreams through Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) programming. Currently, Tillman is celebrating her accomplishment with a virtual graduation fundraising campaign to support the institute's operations, supplies, and scholarships. Her goal is to expand the program and create more opportunities for young people in the arts and STEM fields.

Reflecting on her journey in an interview with Good Morning America, Tillman expressed her gratitude for her family's encouragement and shared her excitement for the future, stating, “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’s story is one of inspiration and leadership, demonstrating the power of determination and the importance of a supportive community. As she continues to break barriers and set new records, she remains committed to giving back and empowering the next generation of leaders through her institute and beyond.

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