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STEAM & Dream Summit features 16-year-old ASU doctoral candidate

American Family Insurance sponsors event for middle and high school students

Dorothy Tillman standing in a crowded room with a screen behind her.

Dorothy Tillman II, a 16-year-old ASU doctoral candidate, partnered with American Family Insurance to present a STEAM & Dream Summit for 200 middle and high school students at ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus on April 21. Photo by Harshith Godishala

May 17, 2023

Dorothy Jean Tillman II is an award-winning tech and arts enthusiast, community activist and doctoral candidate in behavioral health at Arizona State University — and she's just 16.

Known to her family and friends as “Dorothy Jeanius,” Tillman is behind the Dorothy Jeanius STEAMScience, technology, engineering, art and math Leadership Institute and Dorothy Jeanius STEAM Labs in both Chicago and West Capetown, South Africa. She is already leading the way as a CEO in the world of STEAM education and efforts to protect the environment. Passionate about environmental sustainability, she creates STEAM children's books and delivers inspiring talks to motivate young minds to take action toward saving the planet.

Tillman’s motto is "leading by examples of excellence," and that's exactly what she did when she teamed up with American Family Insurance to host the STEAM & Dream Summit on April 21 at ASU's Downtown Phoenix campus. More than 200 middle and high school students from ASU Preparatory Academy participated in the daylong event.

Through these one-of-a-kind and inclusive learning experiences presented in cities across the U.S., American Family Insurance aims to provide K–12 students the opportunity to explore these disciplines while inspiring and motivating the next generation of entrepreneurs and technology leaders.

“STEAM & Dream was created to give youth, particularly BIPOC youth, the opportunity to explore the opportunities technology and STEAM-based fields can offer, through innovative and engaging programming, workforce training, mentorship, entrepreneurship and more,” said Jim Buchheim, American Family community and social impact officer. “Through the STEAM & Dream Summits and investment in our amazing partners who lead the way, we’re able to offer this exciting programming in more cities and empower individuals to pursue and reach their dreams and help build strong, thriving communities for all."

Students who attended the STEAM & Dream Summit at ASU participated in a variety of labs covering topics including virtual reality, creating the future of tech education, money management and entrepreneurship. To coincide with Earth Day on April 22, environmental sustainability was also a lab topic.  

Additionally, the summit attendees had the opportunity to speak with Tillman, learn more about her academic journey and start thinking about their future.

During a question and answer session with the students, Tillman shared highlights from her student experience. When she was just 10, she enrolled as a psychology major at the College of Lake County, earning an associate degree in August 2016. Tillman went on to enroll in courses at Stanford Continuing Studies, Brigham Young University Distance Learning and Excelsior College, where she received her Bachelor of Science in humanities in summer 2018.

After earning her Master of Science at Unity College in Maine in spring 2020, Tillman became the youngest environmental and sustainable scientist in the United States. She was accepted into ASU's College of Health Solutions' behavioral health management program in 2021 and is on track to graduate with her doctorate in May 2024.

“I had my bachelor’s degree by 13 and my master’s degree by 15,” Tillman shared with the summit attendees. She described a PhD with simplicity and clarity as “the highest level of education you can get” that ends with a culminating project or “a long paper at the end (focused on) whatever your idea is,” she said.

Tillman became American Family's partner for the Phoenix STEAM & Dream event through her Chicago-based nonprofit that includes nationwide online programming aimed at encouraging and inspiring underserved youths to pursue STEAM disciplines. American Family also partners with ASU on college readiness and workforce development initiatives.

“American Family Insurance has been a significant partner for Access ASU’s Hispanic Mother-Daughter Program for the last three years, providing a recent $20,000 donation to the program,” said Allison Otu, associate vice president of outreach with Access ASU. “Additionally, we are working with American Family to develop workforce initiatives with our ASU students through internships, career development workshops and more. When American Family approached Access ASU with the interest in partnering for the first STEAM & Dream event in Arizona, we were excited to connect our school partnerships and ASU assets to support the event,” Otu said.

The summits are an extension of the STEAM & Dream programming that began during COVID-19 in Milwaukee in response to a lack of access to computers and STEM programs at home. In support of this programming, American Family Insurance invested $1.2 million in Urban Future Centers, a network of community-based organizations dedicated to fostering partnerships that build power and advance empowerment and equity for communities most impacted by physical, economic and social disparities.

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