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Student receives PhD from MIT as 3 generations beam with pride

CAMBRIDGE, MA -- When LaCreis Kidd marches up to receive her PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Division of Toxicology on Friday (June 6), no one will be prouder than her 70-year-old maternal grandmother, Paula Staton.

"At each stage of my academic life, she's been there to help celebrate the accomplishment and encourage me to go further," said Ms.������������������Kidd, who dedicated her thesis to both grandmothers, Ms. Staton and Birdie Jenkins, and her late grandfather, Romulus E. Staton.

Four generations of her family will attend commencement. In addition to her grandmothers, Ms. Kidd's nine-month-old daughter, Nayla Christene Kidd-Eweka, and her mother, Sylvia Staton Diaz, will be in the audience. Ms. Diaz is the dean of Sousa Junior High School in the Bronx and an "active participant in the academic and cultural growth of our children," according to her daughter.

Alluding to Ms. Staton, Ms. Kidd said, "My grandmother raised five children alone in Harlem in the '50s and she instilled self discipline, organizational skills and a thirst for knowledge in all of them. All her children obtained college degrees. These traits were passed on to the next generation." The Statons were divorced when their youngest child was 2.

Ms.������������������Kidd, the first African American woman to earn a PhD in toxicology at MIT, intended to go to medical school when she entered Spelman College, an historically black women's college in Atlanta. By the end of her sophomore year, she had decided to concentrate on research and she participated in the UMARC (Undergraduate Minority Access to Research Careers) program. She was recruited for MIT by Professor William G. Thilly and attended the MIT Summer Research Program in 1990.

"At Spelman, the number of students in the classes was relatively small and the small classrooms enabled the instructors to really get to know the students," said Ms. Kidd, who took some undergraduate courses when she entered MIT, where some of her classes had as many as 200 students. "That makes it hard to establish relationships with the instructors."

She did develop a close relationship with her advisor, Professor Steven R. Tannenbaum, director of the Division of Toxicology. "When she came here, she was a little intimidated by the place," he recalled. "A lot of kids are. She really tested herself here and she found she could meet the challenge. I would describe her as a quiet doer."

Ms. Kidd's thesis explored the potential connection between hetereocyclic amines produced by cooking muscle-containing foods (beef, pork, fish) at high temperatures and colo-rectal cancer.

While the research was unable to prove there is a link, Professor Tannenbaum said, "She developed very sophisticated analytic methods and did an heroic amount of work." Ms. Kidd, who plans to do post-doctoral research in epidemiology, hopes to publish the thesis, which is entitled, "The Estimation of Urinary Excretion of Two Potent Heterocyclic Aromatic Amines in Various Human Populations and Their Role in Colo-Rectal Cancer."

Ms. Kidd, 28, has had a longtime interest in nutrition. She was a strict vegetarian when she came to MIT and would post exotic recipes on the laboratory bulletin board. "When I find something I like, I want to share it," said Ms. Kidd, who has conducted a seminar series on better health through nutrition and physical fitness.

Her interest in cancer research was spurred by the toll the disease has taken on her family. Relatives have been afflicted with breast cancer and prostate cancer. Her grandfather died last January of lung cancer. "For months before my grandfather passed, he kept asking me how much longer I had to go," she said. "It was almost as if he were trying to wait around until I was finished. If he were here today, I know he would be proud."

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