Barbara Grogan could easily impart wisdom when she speaks at Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Spring Commencement ceremony. Instead, the pioneering businesswoman plans to celebrate the success of MSU Denver’s graduates. 

 “To see the impact that MSU Denver has on families and the quality of our students is quite remarkable,” Grogan said. “I don’t inspire them; they inspire me.” 

Barbara Grogan Headshot

Grogan will give an address along with receiving this year’s Marathon Award, MSU Denver’s highest honor, during Commencement on Friday. She first connected with the University over a decade ago after former MSU Denver President Stephen Jordan, Ph.D., and the Board of Trustees committed to providing accessible in-state tuition for residents regardless of immigration status.  

Inspired by what she called the University’s “courage and conviction” on the issue, Grogan made a significant charitable gift to fund MSU Denver scholarships for undocumented students. Later, she was introduced to students who benefited from the donation and started meeting them for lunch regularly. 

“I got to know MSU through the eyes of students,” Grogan said. “They give me hope in our future.”  

In recent years, Grogan got more engaged with the University. As the former chair of MSU Denver’s Board of Trustees, she was instrumental in the appointment of Janine Davidson, Ph.D., as president. Grogan now serves on the board of the MSU Denver Foundation 


Grogan’s life journey 

Grogan was born in St. Louis and attended the University of Colorado. After graduating, she took a job at the regional phone company and started a family. After her marriage ended, Grogan founded Western Industrial Contractors in 1982.  

“Life sort of threw me a curveball,” she said of the end of her marriage. “I thought it was the worst thing that ever happened to me, but it catapulted me into this life that I could have never imagined.”  

Western Industrial Contractors flourished with help from Grogan’s entrepreneurial skills and supportive mentors. The plucky construction company built security and baggage-handling systems at more than 300 airports and added several well-known clients.  

On the heels of the company’s success, Grogan was named the first female chair of the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City (Denver Branch) and the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, among numerous high-profile positions and prestigious awards. 

Grogan sold her business in 2004 and shifted her focus to philanthropy, largely involving education and children. She considers her work with MSU Denver to be among the most fulfilling accomplishments of her life.  

Barb Grogan standing with the Tivoli in the background

“MSU Denver is such a marvelous place that feeds my soul,” she said. “I am profoundly honored to receive this award and grateful for my ability to participate there.” 

That sentiment is reciprocated by MSU Denver’s top executive. 

“Barb is one of the most passionate, mission-driven people you’ll ever meet,” Davidson said in a video celebrating Grogan.  

MSU Denver President, Janine Davidson, Ph.D.

Watch for the video soon and tune in to MSU Denver’s livestreamed Commencement ceremonies to watch Grogan accept the Marathon Award.