This Millionaire Is Giving Prospective College Students the Opportunity to Succeed


Not everyone in the oil and gas industry is a villain. In fact, sometimes the riches gained — and shared — could be the very thing that launches great minds into brilliance. For instance, gas and oil entrepreneur and millionaire Michael Smith recently donated $13 million to his alma mater, Colorado State University. Most of the money is earmarked for full-ride scholarships for 70 students in hopes that a new generation of chemists, geologists and entrepreneurs will find as much success as the man whose name is on their scholarships.

Smith began his career in the 1970s at CSU, where he studied chemistry with a minor in mathematics. But instead of a career in academics, Smith decided to take the entrepreneurial path and founded Basin Exploration, an oil and gas company, in Fort Collins, Colorado, in 1981. For 20 years, he built the company before selling it to Stone Energy in 2001. He’s currently the CEO of Freeport LNG, a liquid nitrogen gas company based in Freeport, Texas.

He previously served as a board member and president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, a group that promotes Colorado’s energy industry. Smith also holds an honorary doctorate of humane letters from CSU, given to him in 2008.

“I owe much of my success to the education I received at CSU and the combination of strong science and mathematics that enabled me to learn the oil and gas business,” Smith said for an article posted at “My career has been built around the opportunity this country’s energy business has spawned, and I hope my gifts help CSU to continue providing a premier education to generations of geologists, chemists and business leaders.”

According to the college, $5 million will create 50 full-tuition scholarships to the College of Business, $3.7 million will go toward adding a new building to the Warner College of Natural Resources, $3.5 million will help build the new on-campus stadium, and $800,000 will go to creating 10 full-tuition scholarships in the Department of Geosciences and 10 full-tuition scholarships in the Department of Chemistry.

Smith wants to see bright minds go to school without worrying about money.

“My focus was on scholarships for people to be able to afford to go to school who could otherwise not afford it,” he said in an interview with the Denver Post.

This is the biggest gift ever given to the School of Business and the college’s president, Tony Frank, is grateful for the opportunities it will afford to many.

“We are humbled by [Smith’s] generosity and profoundly inspired by what we believe this will do for our students, alumni and academic programs. The breadth and reach of the generosity from Michael and Iris Smith is truly unparalleled, with the potential for a transformative impact on three of our top academic colleges and our new on-campus stadium currently under construction,” Frank said.

Smith has a history of donating to charities throughout Colorado. According to the Denver Post, Smith donated $5 million to build a six-story clinic and research laboratories that opened in 2007 at National Jewish Health.

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