Peyton Ratto awarded Student of the Year by U.S. Department of Transporation 

Student Peyton Ratto will graduate with a dual master’s degree in civil engineering and city and regional planning. Courtesy of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

The SCV native and Cal Poly student is pursuing a dual master’s degree 

The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded 34 students nationwide with Student of the Year and among those honorees was Santa Clarita Valley native and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo graduate student Peyton Ratto. 

The award was presented by the Department of Transportation’s University Transportation Centers Program, which awards grants to universities across the nation that advance transportation research, technology and professionals.  

According to Ratto, she was nominated by her civil engineering professor Anurag Pande, who recognized her work on the book he was writing. She described the book as a “textbook” that wraps up all the prerequisites such as physics and math courses a student will need to pursue civil engineering and city and regional planning — the paths she chose. 

“When I started the master’s program, Dr. Pande shared with me his textbook that would be developed as a part of the ongoing U.S. Department of Education Open Education Resource project,” Ratto said in a prepared statement. “I enthusiastically jumped on board and co-authored the text that helps non-engineers get through the wall or prerequisites.” 

Peyton Ratto accepting her award at the U.S. Department of Transportation 32nd Annual Outstanding Student of the Year award ceremony. Courtesy of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

“I condensed all of that prerequisite information because going into my grad program, I had to take all those separately — each course costing about $1,000,” Ratto said. “It took up all of summer, so that was a challenge.” 

“It leaves out a lot of people in engineering, or people wanting to into the engineering profession because it does cost a lot of money and it does take a lot of time,” she continued. “This open educational resource makes it a free textbook. It’s now being taught this winter quarter.”  

She also had to write a short letter about herself, and the day after everything was submitted, she received word she would be Student of the Year. She was flown out to Washington, D.C., to attend the Transportation Research Board conference and to attend the award ceremony.  

Ratto said she completed her undergraduate degree at Cal Poly in 2021. Then she made the decision to pursue a dual master’s program in civil engineering and city and regional planning to obtain that specialization in transportation planning. 

“I loved my undergrad in city and regional planning. It was a lot of policy and being creative in some of the studio projects that we were doing,” she said. “I loved the engineering aspects that I wanted to learn more of the technical side, and really figure out the reason why things are the way they are in a city.” 

She assisted Pande after he reached out to her and offered her an independent study to coauthor the book. She said yes because she knew it would help students like herself in the future.  

According to Ratto, she’s heard a lot of positive feedback from her classmates or first-year students in the program who’ve used the textbook. The textbook is part of an ongoing project, OERTransport, a series of six textbooks that, once completed, will be open resources.  

Cal Poly, the University of Texas Arlington, and the University of South Florida are participating in the project.  

“We’re all a part of this series for how to further pursue the transportation field, as well as in collaboration with urban planning and civil engineering,” Ratto said. “It’s been great because I’ve met people from across the nation who are studying similar things.” 

The project was funded through a grant from the Department of Education with the purpose of furthering low-cost materials in education.

Ratto said she fell in love with city and regional planning after taking those courses. She’s come a long way in her studies, and she’s excited for the future — she was offered a job opportunity with a civil engineering company. 

“I’m just excited to really get out there and hopefully continue to make cities better through what I’ve been learning,” Ratto said.  

Thirty-four students from across the country were honored at this year’s U.S. Department of Transportation Outstanding Student of the Year award ceremony. Courtesy of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

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