MISSOULA – At first meeting, Betta Lyon-Delsordo embodies that humble, unassuming quintessentially Missoula spirit. She’s also a triplet, a Big Sky High School valedictorian and – like most University of Montana students – balances a passion for learning with plenty of time spent outside.
Then she’ll casually share she once “did a stint” at a Buddhist center in California, that she taught herself to code in middle school – before she became interested in ethical hacking – or was named a Presidential Leadership Scholar and a National Merit Scholar at UM.
She might mention her time living and working on five different continents – experiences she said provided her a lens into what keeps most women from economic mobility. Or she may reference her long-term goal of buoying Montana’s remote tech job sector, her web-design side hustle or becoming fluent in Spanish.
This is where the University of Montana comes in.
It all sounds like a lot to pack into such a young life, but her trajectory characterizes the “power of the ‘and’ that permeates the UM experience.
“I heard President Bodnar say that once, and it really stuck with me,” she said. “He encouraged us to make room for the ‘and’ – that interdisciplinary combination that can create opportunities you would never imagine.”
For Lyon-Delsordo, a unqiue academic path started even before she came to campus.
When she was a junior in high school, she was selected as a Fellow for a high school youth exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and managed by UM’s Mansfield Center. The fellowship awarded her a five-week cultural exchange to Thailand, which sparked in her a lifelong love of travel and absorbing new cultures. That thread is woven into her UM education.
“That experience for me was transformative,” she said. “It opened my eyes to all that is really possible at UM, especially in terms of the amazing international opportunities.”
As her high school career concluded, Lyon-Delsordo chose to attend the Davidson Honors College at UM. It was close to home “but provided just about any opportunity” she wanted.
“I’ve been able to do a lot because there is that support here,” she said. “Everything I’ve wanted to do; I’ve been met with the phrase ‘let’s make it happen.’”
Patricia Duce, UM computer science lecturer, said Lyon-Delsordo’s natural curiosity is evident in the classroom.
“She is curious about everything, engages in conversation and willing to go above and beyond what is expected,” Duce said. “Betta takes advantage of every opportunity to learn whether it is in the classroom or on one of her adventures.”
She said her love for cultures and languages – both coding and foreign – complement each other. Working with UM faculty members to secure an independent study, she was able to travel the world while working as a digital nomad – a term used to describe people who work remotely or are location independent. While globe-hopping, she interned for GatherBoard, a Missoula technology firm that manages an events calendar system, and she created a bilingual blog called “Traveling Intern Series” sharing her travels and tech work.
After ending up in Spain, Lyon-Delsordo mentored and coached a girls’ coding team that ended up making it to the semifinals in the world championship. She went to Spain specifically because she wanted “to learn what it was like to code when English isn’t your first language.”
Despite the pandemic canceling her plans to study abroad in Puerto Rico this year, she sought out an internship for this summer with a local tech firm – with the help of the University – to ethically hack businesses and help them reveal holes in their cybersecurity.
At UM, Lyon-Delsordo said combining her Spanish language and literature classes, alongside computer science coursework, has helped her visualize a glaring gender imbalance for women in technology.
She credits UM classes in Latin American history and women in Spanish literature for deepening her understanding of the intersection of politics, social justice and feminism.
“Those topics might seem separate from computer science, but really they are a big part of our global, socioeconomic situation, and they touch every industry in some way or another,” she said.
UM Spanish Professor Clary Loisel said Lyon-Delsordo’s penchant for critical thinking was evident in his classes, as she made timely connections between Latin American literature and world events.
“Her global approach to learning is absolutely amazing,” Loisel said. “I had the privilege of working with her for an independent study as she traveled around the world. She took the initiative to write one of the finest undergraduate papers I have ever read and even created a blog.”
Loisel said he views Lyon-Delsordo as a student with “unlimited potential” who will make important contributions to the world.
One major task on Lyon-Delsordo’s agenda is tackling the gender imbalance in computer science and making careers in technology more accessible. She sees computer, web and coding skills a good fit for women not only because of the in-demand workforce skills, but because the job can be done essentially from anywhere.
For now, she has her sights set on graduate school and hopes to one day work in cybersecurity to improve lives and lessen risks for ordinary people.
“I’m really happy with all of the connections and threads I’ve created at UM,” she said. “I would say that whatever amount you put into it, you’re going to get that and more out of it.”
Jenny Lavey, UM News Service
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