How Dorothy Jean Tillman earned her doctorate as a teenager

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At 17 years old, child prodigy Dorothy Jean Tillman defied the odds and earned her doctoral degree at Arizona State University. Starting her journey of higher education at 10 years old as a freshman at the College of Lake County, Tillman continued to climb the ladder and achieve milestones at a young age. With her work as the CEO and founder of the Dorothyjeanius STEAM Leadership Institute, she’ll look to create a bright future for others who want to be in her field.

What was the process of getting your doctorate degree?

“I don’t think I realized I wanted to get a doctorate until the last year in my program, [when I was] getting a doctorate. I always made jokes about maybe getting a Ph.D. one day, possibly doing [it], just knowing it was the highest level of education, but I never was serious about it. I didn’t think it was something I was genuinely going to do. Once I finished my master’s degree, I was kind of looking at what I wanted to do with my life, and with my other degrees, my mom introduced the idea of getting a Ph.D. at Arizona State University to me, and I didn’t know. I pushed back a little bit. Then, once I finally got into the program and started learning about integrated behavioral health and all of the different things you could do with it, I was like, ‘Okay, this is something that I like, enjoy, and something that I want to do.’”

What should people know about integrated behavioral health?

“Some diseases are comorbidities, meaning that [they are] two things that go [hand in hand]. Most injuries for people that are just injuries that they’re going to have to live through, especially if it’s one that they hadn’t had before, is a comorbidity in the sense that it’s affecting them a lot mentally because it’s significantly changing the way that they’re used to living and impacting their daily lifestyle. They usually don’t [explore] those feelings with themselves or talk to other people about them, especially health professionals, so integrated behavioral health is something that drew me in because I feel like it’s the cure to that, and what it is is making sure that facilities work fully hand in hand. All of their records are combined, and when you get that referral for a therapist from your physical health doctor, that therapist [will] be, if not down the hall, across the hall.”

What is some advice that you would give to incoming college students?

“Be your [best] support system and have a good support system because resources and support systems are [critical], but remember that you are the best you can be. Whatever you want to do [will] be whatever you want to do. Other people’s opinions, you can take them into account, but at the end of the day, they can never make or break what it is that you want to do.”

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