Apprey Shepherds U.Va.'s Office of African-American Affairs Toward Enhanced Success

February 05, 2007

Feb. 5, 2007 -- Dr. Maurice Apprey, interim dean of the Office of African-American Affairs, is making some gradual and specific changes in his new post, but he isn’t there to “fix anything,” he told an audience in the Dome Room of the Rotunda during the Feb. 1 State of the Office of African-American Affairs address.

While taking the opportunity to look at what the Office of African-American Affairs does well and pledging to continue those practices, Apprey is also boosting support services to help students attain academic success.

“As we synthesize what is good that we have been doing all these years, we will know what to tweak and … improve further,” said Apprey, a professor of psychiatric medicine and the School of Medicine’s former associate dean for diversity.

Academic achievement and a climate to succeed are at the heart of the office’s mission. The OAAA can’t grow, Apprey said, without its three, well-known pivotal programs — faculty-student mentoring, peer advising and cultural events — and without the collaboration of faculty and academic association deans, and without the offices of diversity and the student affairs.

In the words of one student he quoted: “It was the Office of Admission that attracted me to the University of Virginia. It was the Peer Advisor Program that kept me here.”

The creator of the Medical Academic Advancement Program, Apprey said the Office of African-American Affairs would target advising and support groups in the areas of pre-medical, pre-commerce and international affairs study.

Apprey said that every year, approximately 100 black first-year students express interest in commerce, but only a handful of them gain admission to the program. And while dozens declare an early interest in medical school, few remain on track over their four years at U.Va. With only 3 percent of physicians in this country being African American, Apprey said, “We have an ethical obligation to do something about that.”

He said he has been combing through information to check, “What are we doing, what are we not doing?” To prepare applicants with the tools to get into these programs, he is setting up workshops in how to conduct research and use statistical software essential to social scientists, for example.

Apprey, who has taught for the U.S. State Department since 1982, also spoke of the impact U.Va. could have on creating an more diverse diplomatic corps. “In all these years, I have yet to see one African-American diplomat, when U.Va. produces the largest number of diplomats and foreign-affairs personnel in the country.” In response, he has launched a foreign-affairs interest group as a pilot case; other interest groups devoted to other subjects may be established in the near future.

Apprey has enlisted the help of former Ambassador Nathaniel Howell to mentor the foreign-affairs group. The two men worked together through U.Va.’s Center for the Study of Mind and Human Interaction.

Trained as a psychoanalyst who studied with Anna Freud (the daughter of the well-known father of psychoanalysis), Apprey has stretched his professional work from helping the troubled individual to healing groups at the level of nations, becoming an international mediator.

Although he illustrated his talk with PowerPoint slides and a complex organizational chart, his calm, low-pitched, elegantly accented voice waxed philosophical, sprinkled with classical references.

Some people think change has to happen quickly, in a big upheaval, said Apprey, who recently completed his second doctoral degree, in executive management. But he favors working on changes slowly and carefully, he said.

One student asked what the OAAA is doing to make better connections with the local African-American community, and he said it was an area he hadn’t addressed yet. “Come back to me in three months, and I’ll have an answer for you,” he said.

The Office of African-American Affairs, created in 1976 to support black students and help change the institutional culture to embrace diversity, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.