Dr. Maurice Apprey, Dean of African-American Affairs, Outlines Efforts to Raise Student Standards

February 05, 2008

February 5, 2008 — In Monday's annual address on the state of African-American affairs at the University of Virginia, Dr. Maurice Apprey said he wants to see the office create and maintain sustainable practices and resources to offer more opportunities for black and minority students, especially in preparing them for professional and academic careers, and to enhance their leadership skills.

Apprey, who has been in his current role since 2006, said initiatives being put into place are designed to increase the number of students going on to graduate and professional schools as well as the number of graduates who are effective in the workplace. The performance of the Class of 2011, which entered U.Va. this fall, will be decisive in measuring the outcomes of the new initiatives, Apprey said.

Raising standards for African-American students "is the reason I exist here," Apprey told the audience in the Rotunda's Dome Room, in answering a student's question. Mentioning the University's 87 percent black student graduation rate, he said, "Graduation should be the baseline and not the ceiling."

Apprey, a professor of psychiatric medicine who also has a doctorate in executive management, described the office's new efforts to prepare students for careers in foreign affairs, business and health. He also outlined initiatives he is beginning in order to boost enrollment of blacks and other minorities in graduate education and medical research programs by providing students with more exposure to practitioners and advising them on academic preparation.

The foreign affairs/pre-law support group, begun last year, brings diplomats and legal scholars to meet informally with students, for example. A new pre-commerce support group aims to help students improve their chances for getting into the Commerce School.

The nationally recognized Peer Advisor Program, which taps upperclass students to mentor first-year students, will soon be extended to include U.Va. alumni, Apprey announced. Current students will be able to contact alumni to seek advice on their career paths.

"This is something I've been wanting to do for a long time," said associate dean Sylvia Terry, who created the Peer Advisor Program in 1984. The "Alumni Bank" will be open for business by March 1.

The office recently hired Kimberley Bassett, who earned her Ph.D. in chemistry at U.Va., to provide academic support to students interested in health-related and physical science fields. She will work with Apprey to develop the medical research advancement program.

Bassett accompanied students on a between-semesters trip to Brazil last month under the auspices of the Alternative Spring Break program. The OAAA is now collaborating with the U.Va. Center for Global Health to recruit for and support the center's scholar program.

Another project Apprey is working on would increase the number of minority physician-scientists and laboratory researchers through a medical research advancement program. "This would create a pipeline for faculty recruitment," said Apprey, who first established a similar program in 1984 to recruit and retain African-Americans in medicine while serving as associate dean of diversity and student support in the University's School of Medicine.

The research program would "provide total immersion at the Ph.D. level in order to cultivate identification with basic research scientists and/or clinical researchers … and
provide sustained work in order to create the foundations for a research program that the student might use as a template for future work."

To increase the number of students pursuing academic careers, Apprey said he is working with the Institute for the Recruitment of Teachers at Phillips Academy, an intensive summer workshop that helps prepare students for graduate school.  

"We need to ensure that the efforts we are making across the University are sustained so our students are benefiting to the utmost," said Apprey. "What we do has to be sustained so that our children and grandchildren will be better able to work together and to live together."