17-Year-Old Grad Student Dorothy ‘Jeanius’ Addresses The Cycle Of Education Through Leadership

Dorothy Jean Tillman, the youngest ever to make the BLACK ENTERPRISE 40 Under 40 list in 2021 at the age of 15, continues investing in the next generation of leaders.

From Chicago to Africa, the now 17-year-old founder and CEO of the Dorothy Jeanius STEAM Leadership
Institute, and aspiring woman of power, has planted roots to cultivate her leadership approach. Tillman is fostering creativity and divergent thinking alongside STEAM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) while encouraging children to explore, play, and try new things.

While pursuing her Doctorate of Behavioral Health, at Arizona State University, Tillman and her team of STEAM-ulators are creating pathways for more underrepresented groups to enter and succeed in STEAM related fields in spite of the education landscape.

(Photo courtesy of Dorothy Jean Tillman)

“There’s obviously a big problem in our education system. And a big part of that problem is that they are treating kids like robots who are all cut and colored the same. They aren’t. Every kid is different. Even when you don’t break it down to each person, there is at least three or five big groups of ways to learn that they still don’t want to cater to,” Tillman tells BE.

“People need to be able to go at their own pace and openly communicate and learn about things like financial literacy and communication,” she adds. “Counselors in a lot of schools aren’t really up to par with what those students need or even if the counselors are very competent, there’s way too many students to help each one.”

Most recently, the STEAM Leadership Institute brought its learning and leadership prowess to ASU, while giving students the undivided attention they each deserve. It recently partnered with American Family Insurance for the empowering and interactive 2023 STEAM & Dream Summit in Phoenix. More than 200 students participated in the youth-led and youth-focused activation to celebrate Earth Day and climate resilience. As a change maker, Tillman is leading the charge in amplifying voices on how to invest in our planet.

(Photo courtesy of Dorothy Jean Tillman)


“Having leaders who want to lead you, who want to teach you is extremely important. There are a lot of teachers who are getting treated unfairly are resenting their jobs and they’re resenting their students. That’s not okay because that creates resentment from the students and then its just an endless cycle,” Tillman explains.

Tillman is proud and intentional about maintaining a point of contact and resource for youth to gain access to leadership, guidance, and even letters of recommendations. She is looking forward to her golden 18th birthday, franchising her business as well as pouring time into trips for bonding and learning purposes.

In doing so, Tillman has done the following: “surround yourself with the best people possible. Resources take people very far and it makes a difference in the equitability of a situation.”

“That’s why I was able to do it because I had a great foundation. I had good leaders and people to look to tell me how to do things. When you have that help and you have those people guiding you and to be that ground to walk on, things are a lot easier.”

Tillman advises youngsters who want to build and create something for kids to “lay out your plan and find the right people to associate with.”

“Know exactly what you want so your village can help you get it,” she says.

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