Dorothy Jean Tillman II is just like your average 14-year-old in many ways. She loves dancing, using TikTok, and hanging out with her friends. But on paper, you’ll find that she’s actually quite extraordinary. In fact, this teenager’s latest feat is earning a master’s degree!
The teenage prodigy, nicknamed DJ (as in Dorothy Jeanius) by her family and friends, received her master’s degree in environmental science and sustainable engineering from Unity College. The south side Chicago native graduated from the private liberal arts institution in Unity, Maine, as one of its distance education learners.
“I feel like I’m going on a great path,” DJ said. “I don’t know exactly what I will do. I know in the end, I want to be an entrepreneur.”
The brilliant teen’s schooling journey began in institutions for gifted and talented children. However, she soon realized that the distractions from a regular educational environment affected her ability to learn. With that, DJ began taking high school courses at 8 years old. She would attend regular school in the morning and take her online high school modules at night.
After finishing high school, DJ earned her associate’s degree in psychology from the College of Lake County in Grayslake at 10 years old. Except for assignments completed on campus, she also took distance learning coursework at the college.
DJ then went on to receive her bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from Excelsior College in Albany, New York, at age 12. In total, she now has three degrees to her name!
DJ draws inspiration from someone who’s very much like her – her grandmother, Dorothy Jean Tillman.
The elder Tillman is the first woman to serve as alderman of Chicago’s 3rd Ward. She’s also a Civil Rights activist, an author, and has a Chicago radio show.
“My granny inspires me all the time because she did so much when she was young like me,” she said. “She was my age with Dr. (Martin Luther) King marching for civil rights.”
Jimalita Tillman, DJ’s mom, first discovered her daughter’s passion for learning when she began memorizing “double digits by four or three.” She then made an effort to nurture this gift.
“I’m very proud of her and I’m proud of the example that she’s leaving behind,” Jimalita told PEOPLE.
This teenage genius is highly interested in STEM engineering, another influence from her grandmother, who’d buy her different magazines and books discussing the topic. This led her to participate in engineering and coding enrichment programs as a young pupil.
DJ is still uncertain about the path she’s going to take, but she knows that she wants it to involve STEM. In fact, she’s started taking steps towards that goal by giving back.
Last year, DJ went with her mom on a business trip to Cape Town, South Africa. There, she met a few local girls who shared her passion for STEM. However, they didn’t have the same resources she had back in the US. This inspired her to develop a plan to bring STEM labs to them. She started fundraisers to buy things such as microscopes and computers, which she hopes to bring to Cape Town once COVID-19 restrictions have eased.
In the meantime, the prodigy is writing a book called “Unleash the Jeanius Within,” which is a “wellness, goal-oriented” compilation of excerpts from various people. She’s also planning to start her own podcast.
DJ knows that it’s rare for a teen to have such a long list of accomplishments. However, she says that it only boils down to one thing.
“To get where you want to be, you have to be dedicated,” she said. “[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.”
She may have a lot on her plate, but the good thing is that DJ is able to balance her time well. She has a thriving social life, and she still keeps herself immersed in “teenage” things.
Watch her interview with Unity College in the video below.
This girl certainly has a bright future ahead of her, and we can’t wait to see what she’ll do next!