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Chicago girl Dorothy Jean Tillman earns PhD at just 17 years old

Most 17-year-olds are busy starting their college applications, but at the same age South Side Chicagoan Dorothy Tillman has just earned a PhD.

Tillman recently completed and defended her dissertation to receive a PhD in Integrated Behavioral Health from Arizona State University. She already has her high school diploma, her bachelor’s, a double master’s and now her doctoral degree. But the teen said the goal is not to collect degrees but instead create a space for future generations to dream big.

Tilllman started the Dorothy Jeanius STEAM Leadership Institute. “STEAM” is an acronym for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.

“I felt like I had to be in either an arts program or a STEM program. I never felt like I got both at the same time. And so integrating those and making it so they know, like, the right brain can’t work without the left brain, I feel like is what makes it different,” she said. “I think the quality is a lot better than the quantity, and so making sure I harp on curriculum.”

While there are programs, initiatives and events year-round, the centerpiece of the institute is a summer camp program. Some of Dr. Tillman’s campers have gone on to start their own businesses.

Tridia Davis, 14, is just getting her dream started.

“They show us, you know, how to make the music and the beats. They show us the process of writing and all types of different things and it’s just really helpful,” Davis said.

And her mentor, even with all she’s achieved so far, will never stop dreaming big.

“Being sure of yourself to the point where nobody can shake … the way you think about yourself and your goals.”