Ray Sidney had an MIT advisor who helped to influence his life.

“Prof. Silvio Micali was a great advisor and a terrific person as well. I wanted to give back in a way that would honor him,” he says.

It is why Sidney recently established the Big George Ventures Fund, which is administered by MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and will support graduate fellowships. The gift will support students whose research aligns with that of Micali, a cryptographer and theoretical computer scientist.

“Look how much people worry about identity theft these days,’ Sidney says. “There’s a need for data to be protected as much as possible. Every day you can read about somebody’s computer getting hacked into, a new computer virus that’s making the rounds, or some large database of private information getting lost or stolen. There’s no reason to expect these kinds of problems to slow down anytime soon.”

After graduating from high school second in the class, Sidney attended California Institute of Technology for a year before transferring to Harvard, where he received a bachelor’s degree in math in 1991. Four years later, he earned a Ph.D. from MIT, also in math, specializing in cryptography.

Early in his career, Sidney worked as a software engineer in the Cambridge office of D.E. Shaw & Co., a New York-based financial services company. He then moved to the West Coast, where he worked in cryptography at RSA Laboratories. In early 1999, Sidney joined Google, then a start-up, as one of the first software engineers. He left in 2003. Two years later, he founded Big George Ventures in Douglas County, Nevada, which is now focused on building high-quality, eco-friendly, cost-effective housing on 100 acres of Carson Valley land.

Sidney, who as an MIT student received a graduate fellowship from the Hertz Foundation, also recently endowed four Hertz Fellowships, two of which now support graduate students studying at MIT.

“I chose to support graduate fellowships because I am a big fan of higher education,” he says. “Hopefully, some of the people whose studies I’m helping to support will go on to have a positive impact on society.”