CHICAGO — For Dorothy Jean Tillman, an undying thirst of knowledge began at a very young age.
“For me, I had always been really advanced and I was enrolled in a gifted kids’ school where I may be at the 4th grade level doing 6th to 8th grade work on a daily basis,” Tillman said.
A child prodigy, this 14-year-old’s family calls her Dorothy Jeanius or DJ, and with good reason.
At age 10, Tillman earned an Associates’ Degree from the College of Lake County, before earning a Bachelor’s Degree in liberal arts and humanities from Excelsior College in New York via an online learning program at age 12.
It was then that Dorothy Jean Tillman gained a profound interest in the environment.
“I was thinking about Coral Reefs and plastic straws and things like that that might have been on social media,” Tillman said.
Two short years later, Tillman found herself with a Masters Degree in environmental science from Unity College in Unity, Maine, making her the youngest environmental and sustainable scientist in the United States.
Now, Dorothy Jeanius is the CEO of her own company.
The Dorothy Jeanius STEAM Educational Leadership Institute was created in 2020 to help encourage students to learn and get excited about STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics.
“A lot of people don’t want to just sit at a science table, they don’t want to be a physician, they just want to dance,” Tillman said.
Tillman hosts “STEAM camps” at the Harold Washington Cultural Center on the city’s South Side where students learn and experiment with all aspects of STEAM.
On this particular day, students worked on extracting DNA from an orange and rehearsed a dance for an upcoming performance.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tillman put together at-home kits to help students stay engaged at home.
“There’s courses, there’s different modules to work through, there’s worksheets for all different ages,” Tillman said.
Now, Tillman is sending her kits across the world, after being inspired from a trip to Cape Town, South Africa.
“We are sending our STEAM kits to Africa, so everything we do here in person at the camp we put in a little box to send down there,” Tillman said.
The profits from the business are reinvested into the company, and Tillman hopes to expand this concept.
Tillman wants learning to be fun, and believes there’s a strength in it for everybody, hoping the approach can capture youth across the world.