$1M gift establishes endowed professorship in teacher education

October 19, 2018

Long before Dr. Cathy Oberg Blight became one of Flint’s leading pathologists, helping Hurley Medical Center diagnose and care for thousands of patients, she was a child who visited the classroom where her father taught agriculture.

She was growing up immersed in education, and she fondly recalls the moment her mother, the school librarian, called her into the high school library to share the news that she had been admitted into Michigan State University.

Photo of Erickson HallSo after receiving three degrees from MSU and retiring from a successful career in medicine, it only felt natural for the only daughter of two Spartan educators as she decided to make a gift that will preserve her late parents’ legacy.

Dr. Oberg Blight has made a $1 million commitment to establish the Roger and Florence Oberg Endowed Professorship in Teacher Education. The position will help attract and support an expert scholar focused on improving how the nation’s schools serve English language learners.

“My parents never discouraged me from doing anything,” she said. “They believed that education was a way to move forward and succeed in life.

“They loved the university so much and had been touched by the College of Education, so it seems like the right place to do something.”

Impact for English language learners

Oberg Blight’s generous gift helps cap off a successful capital campaign for the college and the university. The Oberg professorship counts among the 105 new endowed faculty positions established at MSU during the Empower Extraordinary campaign—which surpasses the university’s goal to create 100 such positions. The faculty are leaders in their fields; resources like Oberg Blight’s gift are key to helping fund their research and collaborations.

The professorship will strengthen a top priority area for the Department of Teacher Education, and for educators in the future, said Chairperson Margaret Crocco.

“English language learners are one of the fastest growing groups of students in Michigan’s and the nation’s schools,” Crocco said. “Preparing teachers and faculty members for addressing the needs of these students in K-12 schools and in teacher preparation programs is becoming ever more important.

“Our faculty expertise in this area will be made even stronger and more visible with the addition of this position. We are extremely grateful to Cathy Oberg Blight for her generosity.”

Education, medicine and MSU

After graduating from MSU in 1971 with a degree in biochemistry, Oberg Blight returned to the College of Natural Science to complete her master’s in 1973. She then fulfilled her dream of becoming a doctor in 1977 through the College of the Human Medicine.

Oberg Blight was finishing her residency in the pathology lab at Hurley when the Flint hospital asked her to stay. And she did, for 37 years. She moved up the ranks to become director of the Department of Pathology.

She also held many leadership positions with professional organizations in her field, and shared her knowledge with MSU medical students as a clinical faculty member.

Roger Oberg too shared his support for Spartan doctors-in-training when he created the Florence Gravelle Oberg Endowed Memorial Scholarship for CHM students in 1996. The scholarship honored both the memory of his wife and their daughter’s accomplishments.

Now she’s repaying the gesture in their chosen profession.

“When you have parents who are active in philanthropy and the community, it incentivizes you,” said Oberg Blight, who received the MSU Distinguished Alumni Award in 1999. “It shows you what you can do, and should do.”

The Obergs met at MSU and made an impact in their small town of Oxford, Mich., where they moved after college. Roger progressed from a teacher to a principal and eventually superintendent of the public school system. He earned his master’s (’49) and doctorate (’66) from the College of Education.

Florence, a graduate of the MSU College of Arts and Letters, was a teacher and then librarian in Oxford, receiving her master’s in library science from Wayne State.

The couple was known for bringing care packages for MSU students from Oxford whenever they visited campus.

Along with the teacher education professorship in her parents’ names, Oberg Blight has also made new gifts of $600,000 to the MSU Libraries and $200,000 to Human Medicine.

“[My parents] were very humble people. It would probably embarrass them a bit,” Oberg Blight admitted. “My hope is that what the whole MSU community has provided me and what I have worked for diligently can help in some small way to provide such things for future generations. It’s my way of giving back.”