February 10, 2009 — "I want to emphasize mentoring in practically all we do as teachers, administrators and service agents for one particular reason," Maurice Apprey, dean of the Office of African-American Affairs, said in his annual address in the Rotunda Dome Room Monday night.
"In times of fiscal constraints, deepening our mentoring engagements is crucial, because those are resources money cannot buy."
Apprey's wide-ranging talk moved from the ways in which the dreams of role models can provide guidance for current generations of students to practical aspects of mentoring and advising, to the importance of measured outcomes of students, to global diversity and to intangible factors such as attitudes toward others and their differences.
Apprey, who has served as dean for just over two years, pointed to African-American students' increasing grade-point averages as a sign the office is making progress on his goal of better preparing African-American students to go into top professions and academic areas, including medicine, law, political science and diplomacy, business, engineering and the sciences.
Another sign of success is the University's sustained record in graduating the highest percentage of African-American students among public universities, to be released next week in a report from the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education. With an 88 percent graduation rate, U.Va. is among the select group of schools — public and private — that have black graduation rates above 85 percent.
The Office of African-American Affairs provides a setting where the deans and staff carry out duties and obligations that translate into student learning, said Apprey, a professor of psychiatric medicine and former associate dean for diversity in the U.Va. School of Medicine.
The deans in his office are working more collaboratively to help students by advising them about the academic prerequisites for certain career paths or by finding others who are willing to do so, including faculty members, other administrators and advisers.
Ideally, students need three different kinds of mentors, Apprey said: "a general mentor who can help a mentee frame a career choice; a number of mentoring coaches who can assist a mentee with skill sets, personal, social, and technical skills and competencies; and a sponsor who opens the door for a mentee to enter a network of professional circles and/or an appropriate workplace."
Apprey is concentrating on ways to help black students improve their grades, he said, because a GPA of 3.0 or better is often a requirement to apply for opportunities such as the Leadership Alliance, a national summer research program.
While at the Medical School, Apprey set up the federally funded Medical Academic Advancement Programs to provide medical and pre-med students with academic support and professional counseling. As a result, the school experienced a 13-year run of 100 percent retention of minority and disadvantaged students and significant increases in the number of minority students in entering classes.
In addition, preparing students to be successful in a global world is a necessity, Apprey said. Students must acquire global knowledge and intercultural sensitivity.
"Accordingly, our learning objectives must have diversity as an educational value at its center," he said.
Apprey framed his remarks by emphasizing the ways in which the dreams of ancestors, civil rights leaders and other role models can help students and their mentors map out their own paths.
"The dreams of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. … created designs and pathways for legislative, political or economic changes," Apprey said.
President Obama had to create his own dream of what to be when he grew up without knowing his father, but he could imagine the characteristics of a man he would like to emulate, he said.
In a third example, he said that Dr. Ben Carson, the subject of a new film, used to think he was "dumb," but was able to adopt his mother's expectations for him and make them his own dream in becoming a successful pediatric neurosurgeon.
Collaboration with other offices and departments on Grounds continues to help strengthen OAAA's services for black students.
"The state of African-Americans Affairs at the University of Virginia is on solid ground because of all of us, here and elsewhere, who work tirelessly to sustain the integrity of our learning community," he said.