US Teen Started College at 10, Earns Doctorate at 17

    15 May 2024

    Dorothy Jean Tillman II of Chicago, Illinois took her first college class at age 10. This month, she became the youngest person to earn a doctorate in integrated behavioral health at Arizona State University.

    When she completed her study program, she was 17.

    Arizona State professor Leslie Manson told the television program Good Morning America, "It's a wonderful celebration, and we hope ... that Dorothy Jean inspires more students." And she added, "But this is still something so rare and unique."

    Dorothy Jean Tillman II participates in Arizona State University's commencement, May 6, 2024, in Tempe, Ariz. (Tillman Family via AP)
    Dorothy Jean Tillman II participates in Arizona State University's commencement, May 6, 2024, in Tempe, Ariz. (Tillman Family via AP)

    Her friends and family, though, call Tillman by another name, "Dorothy Jeanius." A "genius" is a very smart person.

    When most students her age were still in middle school, Tillman took classes through the College of Lake County in northern Illinois. She studied psychology and completed her associate's degree in 2016.

    She earned a bachelor's in humanities from New York's Excelsior College in 2018. About two years later, she finished her master of science degree from Unity College in Maine. In 2021, she started work on her doctoral degree at Arizona State.

    Most of her work has been done online while living at home.

    Tillman told the Associated Press that she credits her mother and grandmother for her educational success.

    "Everything that we were doing didn't seem abnormal to me or out of the ordinary until it started getting all of the attention," said Tillman.

    But she did not get to do all the normal things for young people. "I didn't have the everyday school things like (school) dances or spirit weeks or just school pictures and things like that ..." she said.

    She did find time for a dance program and started an organization called the Dorothyjeanius STEAM Leadership Institute. STEAM stands for "science, technology, engineering, arts and math." The program helps young people interested in those subjects during school breaks.

    Now that she has finished her studies, Tillman who is now 18, plans to work on raising money to expand her organization. She hopes to bring it to other places beyond Chicago.

    Manson, the Arizona State professor, said Tillman is creative and energetic, and that she is "a true leader."

    Her mother Jimalita Tillman said she is proud of her daughter's ability to deal with success while making good choices between taking part in social activities and her studies.

    I'm Dan Friedell.

    Dan Friedell adapted this story for Learning English based on a report by The Associated Press.


    Words in This Story

    doctorate —adj. a top-level degree that leads to a Ph.D

    inspire –v. to give people good feelings about doing something

    unique –adj. special or unusual

    associate —adj. a first-level college degree that takes two years to complete and leads to entry into a four-year college

    bachelor –adj. a degree granted to a student after four years of undergraduate study

    master –adj. an advanced degree that comes after a bachelor's degree

    We want to hear from you. Do you know anyone else who is ahead of schedule in their education?