Dr. DJ Tillman Raises the Bar for Chicago Teens

Dr. Dorothy Jean “DJ” Tillman recently earned her Doctorate degree from Arizona State University at the age of 17.

Dr. Dorothy Jean “DJ” Tillman II is just the latest example of what it means to truly BE Black excellence. The 18-year-old Chicago native received her associate’s degree at 10, her bachelor’s degree at 12, and has just earned her Doctorate from Arizona State University, where she studied integrated behavioral health. For her dissertation, she explored the stigma that prevents university students from getting mental health treatment. She made history as the youngest person to do so, at the grand age of 17. Last month, she was even recognized at City Hall for her accomplishments as well as her contribution to science, technology, engineering, arts, and math.

In addition to her rigorous studies, Tillman gives back to her community in the form of her own service project: Dorothy Jeanius STEAM Leadership Institute. Representing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), yet integrating art, represents the essence of Tillman’s vision for her organization. Tillman points her inspiration to a trip to South Africa with her mother, where she met girls that shared the same interests as her in STEM and arts programs. She took her interactions as an opportunity to bridge the gap. “We were talking about how there are a lot of creative aspects that go into STEM and how we wish that the fun of creativity could be like a part of that, and talking to them about that kind of inspired me to create my name.” Talk about a visionary!

Tillman maintains her humility throughout her accomplishments, and recognizes that legacy is extremely important. She doesn’t hesitate to credit the history of leadership and civic engagement in her family to her success, starting with her grandmother, Dorothy Jean Tillman, who served as a civil rights activist and was the first woman to represent Chicago’s 3rd ward as alderman. “I feel like with my grandmother being a civil rights activist and being a politician in my lifetime, hearing all of the stories from that, and the consistent perseverance definitely inspired me to think like I can do something that seemed so much smaller,” the changemaker told True Star.

Tillman has, indeed, worked to live up to her grandmother’s name and make her own impact. When asked where she envisions STEAM being in the next five years, she explains her big dreams of having STEAM franchised and eventually being a brick and mortar.

Tillman and her date Elijah at their prom sendoff.

In the meantime, Tillman reminds everyone that she is a “very normal teenager,” who just likes doing all the same things that everyone else does. “And I feel normal,” she said.  “So I act normal.” She naturally missed out on some traditional teenage experiences (heavy is the head that wears the crown!), but there is no time like the present to have fun! Tillman even went to the Wendell Phillips Academy High School prom recently. She highlighted her most memorable moment as being able to “sing and dance all night with friends” that she’s built relationships with over the past few years.

When asked about her next goal in life, she said she simply wants to be at peace. “I feel like peace is a really hard thing for everybody to accomplish, and that we’re always constantly trying to, but for me, it’s no actual accolade or anything like that, that I’m trying to accomplish.”  We can learn a lot from Tillman, including the importance of having the courage to live up to your dreams. We can’t wait to witness the legacy that Dr. Dorothy Jean “DJ” Tillman continues to trail blaze.


By Sullivan Anderson, North Carolina A&T State University Alumna

Instagram: @SullivanGrace_


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Written by Sullivan Anderson

Probably somewhere adulting, laughing, and spreading love and light. :)
Instagram: @sullivangrace_

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