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Dorothy Jean Tillman: 14-Year-Old Teen From Chicago Earns Her Master’s Degree | Photos

Dorothy Jean Tillman

Meet Dorothy Jean Tillman also known as “DJ”, a 14-year old genius from Chicago who has just earned her Master’s degree in Environmental and Sustainable Science from Unity College in Unity, Maine.

While in high school, she managed to earn her Associate degree in Psychology at College of Lake County in Grayslake, Illinois, which she finished at age 11. She was just 12-years old when she earned her Bachelor’s degree in humanities from Excelsior College in Albany, New York.

Dorothy Jean Tillman JIMALITA TILLMAN

And now, two years later in 2020, she holds a Master’s degree. Her graduation was originally scheduled for May, but has been postponed until August due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Dorothy is planning to continue studying engineering and become an entrepreneur related to the field. She has already authored a book called Unlock the Jeanius Within available for pre-orders, and says that she wants to work with kids and inspire them to learn more.

“I love helping kids have bright futures. I feel like I’m here to make people happy and to help people find their purpose,” she said during an interview with Rolling Out.

DJ Tillman graduates from Excelsior College JIMALITA TILLMAN

“We did a little family celebration,” she tells PEOPLE of her graduation, which was tentatively postponed to August due to coronavirus restrictions. “It was something small and simple because we still have to respect the rules of quarantine.”

DJ says it was her grandmother who first stoked her interest in STEM and engineering, as she’d buy her various magazines and books on the topic, which led the avid young pupil to join engineering and coding enrichment programs as a child.

While she’s unsure what her future holds at the moment, she knows she wants it to somehow involve STEM — and she’s starting by giving back.

DJ Tillman with Unity College President Melik Peter Khoury JIMALITA TILLMAN


Last year, DJ accompanied her mom on a business trip to Cape Town, South Africa, where she met a group of local girls who shared her passion for STEM — but lacked the resources DJ enjoyed back at home. Inspired, she developed a plan to bring STEM labs to her new friends, and began fundraising for things like computers and microscopes, which she hopes to bring to Cape Town once coronavirus restrictions have lifted.

“I know in the future I want to be an entrepreneur. I want to be my own boss,” she says. “I kind of want to be able to take everything that I’ve learned, all of my degrees, and group them into one thing. Because the way I am, I can’t stay on one project. I have to hop around to different things to make sure I stay passionate in everything equally.”

Meanwhile, she’s also working on a book called Unlock the Jeanius Within — which she calls a “wellness, goal-oriented” compilation featuring excerpts from various people — and also floats the idea of one day hosting a podcast.



“To get where you want to be, you have to be dedicated,” she says. “[I don’t want people to be] like, ‘Oh man, she’s so smart, I can never do that.’ That’s not what I want them to think when they read or hear or see my story. I want them to be like, ‘Oh my gosh, she’s so goal-oriented. I need to be determined. I need to have tunnel vision to get to where I want to be. I need to be able to communicate my goals,’ and things like that.”

While her academic achievements are certainly impressive, mom Jimalita says it’s her daughter’s ability to balance her studies with a thriving social life that makes her the most proud.

“I try to keep myself really immersed in the arts, so like, normal, quote unquote, kid things,’” DJ says.

She’s a member of a local dance ensemble called The Happiness Club, with which she performs all across Chicago, and she’s also a student ambassador for the Harold Washington Cultural Center, a gig that earned her a trip to the Tony Awards several years back.


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So this is my week summary. Rounding out my first semester of my masters program. Co-wrote a rap with #tstar performed y @mig.cervantes at the bicentennial of the state of Illinois. Then pulled up to @hamiltonmusical at @cibcnow theater. Flicked up with the new homies @j_hasan22 (john laurens/philliphamiliton) and #erbeinstanley. Loving life. Living in the moment. Swipe 👈🏾 for the action. • • • • • #hamilton #hamiltonmusical #linmanuelmiranda #alexanderhamilton #melaninpoppin #ham4ham #blackexcellence #thomasjefferson #blackgirlsrock #marypoppins #lafayette #miguelcervantes #aaronburr #johnlaurens #hamiltonpuertorico #eliza #tonyawards #broadwaysoblack #musical

A post shared by Dorothy Jean Tillman (@dorothyjeanius) on


DJ has also performed with the Illinois High School Musical Talent Association and the Chicago production of Broadway hit Dear Evan Hansen — and even helped rewrite the Gettysburg Address to a rap, which Hamilton star Miguel Cervantes performed at the Illinois Bicentennial while dressed as Abraham Lincoln.

She’s also an alumnus of the Legacy Flight Academy, a youth aviation nonprofit inspired by the Tuskegee Airmen.



“She’s not isolated, and what I love about her is that she can code switch — she can talk with the adults who are her peers, and then she can be with the kids who are her peers,” her mom says. “Although she’s advancing academically, she gets all the things that her peers get.”


Written by PH

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