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Independent Africa17-year-old teen bags doctoral degree after defending dissertation successfully

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17-year-old teen bags doctoral degree after defending dissertation successfully

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A Chicago teenager participated in her graduation ceremony this month, having achieved her doctoral degree at the age of 17.

Dr. Dorothy Jean Tillman II embarked on her academic journey at the age of 10 as a freshman at the College of Lake County, where she majored in Psychology. By 2020, she had obtained her Master of Science degree from Unity College.

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At the age of 15 in 2021, Tillman was accepted into the Doctor of Behavioral Health Management Program at Arizona State University.

Reflecting on her achievements with “Good Morning America,” Tillman attributed her deep appreciation for education in part to her family’s background.

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“People in my life like my grandmother, who was part of the Civil Rights Movement, she of course harped on the importance of education and consistently learning something always,” Tillman said.

“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 it doesn’t just have to be all of the subjects that they teach you in school there’s so many things in the world to learn about that we wish we knew about,” she said. “I feel like that urge to learn something new just never didn’t exist for me.”

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Tillman said, growing up, she had always felt drawn towards psychology and related fields.

“They’ve always made me so curious,” she said. “And so grinding away, I could continue to study in that area. With even more that was attached to it. It was just really intriguing to me.”

In December 2023, at the age of 17, Tillman successfully defended her dissertation, earning a doctoral degree in integrated behavioral health from ASU’s College of Health Solutions. On May 6, she participated in ASU’s commencement ceremonies.

Before the big day, Tillman expressed her excitement to “GMA,” feeling just as thrilled as any other student.

“I love having a reason to celebrate and throw a big soirée,” she said. “Just that walk, and especially with people I haven’t been there, seeing every day, since my program is online, it’s just gonna feel really fulfilling to finish.”

Dr. Leslie Manson, a clinical associate professor at ASU, told “GMA” that Tillman is the youngest person in school history to earn a doctoral degree in integrated behavioral health.

“It’s a wonderful celebration, and we hope … that Dorothy Jean inspires more students,” Manson said, adding of Tillman, “But this is still something so rare and unique.”

Dr. Dorothy Jean Tillman II officially walked at her graduation ceremony in May.

Dr. Dorothy Jean Tillman II officially walked at her graduation ceremony in May.

Throughout Tillman’s time at ASU, Mason said she saw her growth in gaining the skills of professional writing as well as leadership, noting that Tillman is “inquisitive” and “intelligent.”

“She has innovative ideas and motivation, which is wonderful,” Mason explained. “And truly, I think what is inspiring is that she embodies that meaning of being a true leader.”

Mason added that “other students can really learn the piece of dedication” from Tillman.
“So that motivating energy, those are the pieces that I think other folks can really turn to and feel inspired about,” she said. “That curiosity is always there. And I think all learners come with that. But it’s great to be able to see it in someone so young as well.”

Her inspiration and how she gives back to the community

Tillman’s journey to success wouldn’t be made possible without the support from her mom whom she said is one of her biggest motivators.

Dr. Dorothy Jean Tillman II was only 10 when she became a freshman at the college of Lake County

Dr. Dorothy Jean Tillman II was only 10 when she became a freshman at the College of Lake County, majoring in Psychology.

“Seeing my mother consistently worked so hard to continuously uphold our family’s legacy, and be that person that everyone was able to go to if they needed anything… Always seeing [her] like [a] ‘Wonder Woman’ definitely made me want to grow up [into] an accomplished person,” she said.

A proponent of education, Tillman serves as the founder and CEO of the Dorothyjeanius STEAM Leadership Institute. Through this institute, she organizes programs such as summer camps aimed at assisting children in achieving a balance between arts and STEM subjects.

“I feel like adding art and putting a focus on it throughout science, technology, engineering, and math, makes the kids excited to learn all those things,” she said. “And it opens them up to all of the possibilities and all the knowledge provided in that area of just STEM.”

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