When Dr. Maurice Apprey took a teaching job at UVA in 1980, he had no plans for an academic career. But federal budget cuts at the National Institutes of Health halved funding for his work, exploring the impacts of pregnancy on teens. He needed another gig.
So, for a year, he shuttled between Charlottesville to teach and the NIH to continue his research. And while others considered his rigorous schedule impossible, Apprey says, he thrived. When both UVA and the NIH offered him full-time jobs, he chose UVA, building a career where he has guided and mentored countless students. The longtime professor of psychiatric medicine and dean of the Office of African-American Affairs retires June 30.
“Even when I have bad days, that come and go, the prospect of someone’s success remains the torch,” Apprey says.
Apprey’s four decades at UVA include stints as assistant dean of student affairs and associate dean for diversity at the School of Medicine, where he developed a successful summer enrichment program that was the foundation for programs that continue to prepare underserved and underrepresented students for the rigors of medical school.
He was named dean of the Office of African-American Affairs in 2007. During his tenure, the GPA of Black students has risen steadily—31 percent had a GPA above 3.0 in 2005, 90 percent in 2021.
His approach with students has long focused on listening, falling back on his own expertise as a psychoanalyst who studies the residual impact of trauma over generations. “There are a lot of folks, particularly in underrepresented populations, who don’t give themselves a shot when they should,” says Dr. Michael Nelson (Med ’93), who participated in one of the first summer programs and credits Apprey for the trajectory of his successful career.
“He uncovers that potential, instills confidence and allows them to achieve at levels they would not be able to do on their own,” says Nelson, who is now chief of UVA’s Division of Asthma, Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
For Sydney Williams (Col ’20), Apprey played a critical role in guiding her undergraduate education, counseling her on which courses were best for a pre-med student, encouraging her to explore her interest in philosophy and, eventually, helping her secure admission to 17 medical schools this year, including Duke, Stanford and Columbia. “He knows the advice I need before I even know I need it,” Williams says.
Apprey’s legacy, Nelson says, goes far beyond UVA. “His investment in people and the seeds he’s planted … are all over the country,” he says.
It hasn’t always been easy. Especially in the earliest days, Apprey faced resistance as he lobbied for the program to support underrepresented medical students and others. He has always taken a pragmatic approach to push forward projects. “UVA had this reputation of not being the friendliest place, but there were pockets of people you could work with,” he says. “And they could help you make change possible.”
In retirement, Apprey is eager to focus on his own research, including helping to rewrite an encyclopedic dictionary of psychoanalysis. He hopes UVA can continue to move forward in the work to ensure all students thrive. “Real change takes time,” he says. “But just knowing how human nature is and how resilient organizations are and how resilient African American students themselves are, I still have hope.”