NSBE Jr. Member Earns a Bachelor’s Degree, Seeks Funds to Pursue Her Master’s 

Dorothy Jean Tillman II is in a hurry to fulfill NSBE’s mission. The 12-year-old NSBE Jr. member and Summer Engineering Experience for Kids (SEEK) alumna from Chicago earned a Bachelor of Science in liberal arts from Excelsior College, in New York, this past July and an associate’s degree in psychology from the College of Lake County, in Grayslake, Illinois, two years ago, at age 10. A NSBE collegiate member since August, she’s now enrolled in a master’s degree program in sustainable science and environmental planning, the next step toward a degree in environmental engineering. Her goal is to develop the skills to solve problems such as the water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

Dorothy Jean’s mother, Jimalita Tillman, has launched a GoFundMe campaign to support her daughter’s graduate education.

Her work schedule is “packed,” and her resume reads like an adult’s, but Dorothy Jean (“DJ”), also nicknamed “Dorothy Jeanius” by her mom, looks, sounds and acts like the preteen she is. She has a normal social life with her friends and peers — going to parties, concerts and movies, for example — and she enjoys reading and painting and has a passion for theatre arts as well as technology. She’s also an airplane pilot! She’s learning to fly Cessna 172s through a program based in Tuskegee, Alabama, the home of the famous Tuskegee Airmen.

In elementary school, DJ showed great talent in math, and her teacher at the Muhammad Math and Science Academy, Shahidah Muhammad, introduced her to NSBE’s SEEK program when DJ was 8. DJ won an award during the program, and she gives NSBE the credit for giving her access to information about what is possible as an engineer.

In 2016, Jimalita and Muhammad steered DJ to the Jump the Education Barrier program. There, she found inspiration and a mentor: the program’s 17-year-old creator, Thessalonika Arzu-Embry, who had already earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees. DJ received her associate’s degree later that year, then enrolled in online classes with Stanford University Continuing Studies, BYU Distance Learning and Excelsior.

DJ and Jimalita are nurtured by deep roots in Chicago’s South Side, where both have lived since birth and where NSBE’s founders are from. 

“Dorothy Jean is my mother’s namesake, and my mom was a field staff organizer for Dr. King,” Jimalita reports. “She started with Dr. King at 16. So being a prodigy of some sort may be part of DJ’s genetic makeup,” she adds with a laugh.

The elder Dorothy Jean Tillman went on to serve as a member of Chicago’s City Council, representing the Third Ward, in South Side, from 1985 to 2007. 

DJ is making her own positive impact on her community now, through volunteer works such as “The Back Pack Giveback” she organized with 10-year-old Jahkil Naeem Jackson. More than 200 Chicago students received free book bags stocked with school supplies and nonperishable food items during the event, which was held last August at the Harold Washington Cultural Center, a performance facility in South Side. Jimalita is executive director of the center’s management company.

This past September, DJ received “Who Rocks! Next” honors at the 2018 Black Girls Rock! awards, broadcast on BET. Now a role model, DJ says her “message for my peer group is always do what works for you, and do it as best you can. Nobody can make you not be you. Nobody can do you better than you can be you. So do what works best for you.”

And she encourages other young people to consider careers in STEM.

“Engineering is everywhere,” she says. “Figure out what you have the most fun with and how you can make it a career that takes you around the world.”