Waterloo changed my life in unexpected ways

Waterloo alum, Gil Aburto-Avila, and his wife posing for a photo with pink and b
Waterloo alum, Gil Aburto-Avila, and his wife posing for a photo with pink and blue filter added behind Gil

When I was in second-year engineering in Mexico, we had a course dedicated to the slide rule (there were no pocket calculators in those days). I had an innovative teacher, Dr. Leonardo Rapoport, who decided we needed to learn about computers. He managed to get machine time for us on an IBM 650, where I first learned about programming.  

In the 1960s, the University of Waterloo was already gaining international attention for its Computer Science program. I first learned of the University in the pages of the Journal of the Association for Computing Machinery.  

Reading the articles written by Waterloo professors and my experiences working for the Research Institute of Engineering at the National University of Mexico inspired me to pursue a master’s degree in Computer Science. I applied to Waterloo and two other Canadian universities - and received a no from all three.  

Thankfully, Dr. W.G. Davis wrote to me to say that I wasn’t accepted to Waterloo because I didn’t have enough mathematics courses. I took the necessary classes, applied again and was accepted the next year. Not only was I accepted, I was also awarded a full scholarship.   

A few months later, I arrived in Kitchener at midnight in my new Volkswagen Beetle. I didn’t have a map of the city, so I stopped a police officer to ask for directions. While he could have simply told me the route, he instead led me to campus, where he introduced me to the campus police. One of the officers managed to obtain a key to my room, so I could sleep in the Student Village.  

The next day, I registered for classes and settled into my residence room. That evening, other students came over and invited me to get doughnuts. They made me feel welcome, and we were instant friends.   

When I arrived at the University in September 1968, I did not realize that the Faculty of Mathematics was founded just the year before. The building was new, the Student Village had just opened and the IBM 360/75, the largest and most powerful computer in Canada at the time, had recently been installed. I was a research assistant for Wes Graham and my advisor was the legendary Dr. Don Cowan.  

During my time at Waterloo, I made many friends and met amazing people, including the woman who would become my wife. We have been married for 52 years and counting. We have five sons and three are Waterloo grads - and they also all met their spouses while studying. Now two of my grandchildren are already talking of going to Waterloo. I guess the University of Waterloo runs in the family.  

After graduating and getting married, I decided to stay in Canada. My career spanned more than 35 years at IBM, Information Systems Management Corporation and CIBC.  

As a Waterloo alum, I feel proud to be part of the continuing innovations happening every day. I am lucky to be able to give back to the university that made such a difference for me. Coming to Canada and studying at Waterloo changed my life in ways I never expected. I’m proud to support the next generation of students as they build happy, successful lives - just like I did at Waterloo.   

I am lucky to be able to give back to the university that made such a difference for me.

-- GIL ABURTO-AVILA (MMath ’70)