By: Namish Modi

From co-op student to alumni, to employer, to parent, to support – Ruhuni de Alwis and family connection to Waterloo runs deep

For Ruhuni de Alwis (BMath ’89) and Barry Matsui (BMath ’89), the University of Waterloo ended up being much more than just a place they went to school.

It’s also the place where they met each other, found lifelong friends and laid a foundation for their careers and their journey as a family. Next year will mark 40 years since they began their time as enthusiastic
co-op students at Waterloo. Although much has changed over that time, one thing has remained the same: their connection to their alma mater.

Photo of the de Alwis Matsui family

Ruhuni and Barry began as students in 1984. Today, their sons Noah Matsui (MAcctg ’19) and Jacob Matsui (MAcctg ’21) continue the family tradition as recent alumni of Waterloo, both earning bachelor’s degrees and Master's of Accounting degrees.

“The co-op opportunity that goes along with a degree at Waterloo is really second to none. I look at my kids and it’s incredible that co-op opportunities are stepping stones for their future careers,” says Ruhuni. “You walk away with two years of work experience along with your degree.”

As part of her role as people and culture leader at Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP), Ruhuni hires many co-op students.

Ruhuni and her partner Barry also have more than 12 family members who have attended or graduated from Waterloo in either math, accounting or engineering.

“I think for Barry and I, the co-op program gave us a lot at that time. Our generation was incredibly lucky, co-op allowed us to graduate without any student debt,” says Ruhuni.

They remain lifelong friends with more than 50 people from their time at the University.

The connection they have with the University, coupled with the value they see in the co-op program, motivated Ruhuni and Barry to give back. As part of the annual Giving Tuesday initiative, the couple donated $1,000 to the Waterloo Co-operative and Experiential Education (CEE) fund.

Ruhuni and Barry’s generosity makes them “student challenge champions” for Giving Tuesday on November 28, 2023. Giving Tuesday is a worldwide call for people to come together in support of their communities and the causes they are passionate about. Alumni, parents, faculty, staff and friends of Waterloo are invited to join the movement and support the University through charitable gifts to priority areas.

We both just felt that we would like to give back to something so foundational to us and that has given us our family. We both hire co-op students in our roles, and that brings us back to the University and keeps us connected to Waterloo. Many students, like our sons, start university on third base. In life, giving back is a way to support students who aren’t on third base, yet.


Valuing the impact of co-op

“The co-op program gave me a chance to try out different companies and jobs,” says Ruhuni. “More than finding out what I like, I found out what I didn’t like. It had a huge impact on how I chose opportunities going forward.”

Ruhuni remembers her time as a co-op student fondly. She credits those experiences as giving her the motivation to give back to a community that gave her so much. She remains fond of the co-op program and has seen students excel and flourish beyond their co-op terms.

“We have been so lucky with some of those students over the years,” she says. “If you invest in co-op students and are lucky enough to hire them, nurture them in their career, provide them guidance and answer questions when they have them.”

Ruhuni finds it rewarding to see so many co-op students find success in their lives.

“It’s been 40 years since my husband and I started university along with our group of friends. When you’re starting, you think getting through your degree is such a big deal, and just try to get to the end of that. Every other chapter comes after that, each with its rewards and challenges. You never anticipate how fast it all goes by, and you’re sitting at the 40-year mark realizing it’s time to pay it forward.”