Meet the 2014 Staff

Melanie_BalakitAs the 2014 UNITY reporting fellow, Melanie Balakit has participated in the student projects of NAJA, NABJ, NAHJ, AAJA, and NLGJA. She is a recent journalism graduate from the University of Maryland, College Park.

During her time at the University of Maryland, Balakit served as a multimedia intern at the Baltimore Sun, a multimedia reporter for Capital News Service in Annapolis covering Maryland’s legislative session and as co-editor-in-chief of La Voz Latina, a Latino-interest student publication. She currently works as a freelance journalist for the Prince George’s Sentinel.

For her Connect project, Balakit wrote about how health organizations in Chicago are using a three-year federal grant to reduce HIV/AIDS among racial and ethnic minorities.



Nkongho_BeteckNkongho Beteck is a multiplatform journalist currently working in social media and marketing. Beteck began her career as a freelancer in Hyattsville, Md., and College Park, Md., where she covered city council, including the resignation of Hyattsville’s first Latino council member. She went on to work as the director of programming for her university’s branch of the Society of Professional Journalists before serving as a copy editor for minority publications on her campus.

Her early journalism experience included work as an intern for a television station in Salisbury, Md., where she wrote broadcast scripts for the daily newscast. As a student, she wrote for the homeless advocacy newspaper Street Sense during the government shutdown in Washington, D.C. After numerous internships at other news publications, Beteck decided that she enjoyed the audience side of news and studying how demographics responded to certain news items. For her Connect project, Beteck wrote about about the intersection of sexuality and faith and intersex individuals.

A Salisbury, Md., native, Beteck is a senior journalism major at the University of Maryland and will graduate in spring 2015.


Bobby_BlanchardBobby Blanchard is a journalism senior at the University of Texas at Austin. He spent his first three years in college working for the campus newspaper, The Daily Texan, and was a reporter, a copy editor, a designer and an investigative reporter. He interned at Austin’s public radio station, KUT News. He spent the summer on the city desk at the Houston Chronicle, and during his senior year he will report at the Texas Tribune, a nonprofit media organization that covers public policy, government and politics. He will graduate in May 2015.

For his Connect project, Blanchard dug into the geographical demographics of NLGJA convention attendees and found that only about a dozen of the more than 250 attendees were from cities with fewer than 20,000 people. He also covered a discussion of the intersection of religion and LGBT activism featuring Rev. Dr. Guy Erwin and Rev. Gene Robinson at the inaugural event of the Michael Triplett Speakers Series. If you are interested in his stories or have a perspective you’d like to share, feel free to drop him a line at

Blanchard grew up in Pearland, Texas. He is always looking for a good taco, and he runs almost exclusively on caffeine and queso. He enjoys playing with data, on the job or off. He spends too much time on Twitter, and you can yell at him about it at @bobbycblanchard.


Matt_BloomMatt Bloom is a junior at Indiana University (Bloomington). Originally from Carmel, Ind., he’s the nice Midwestern boy you all know and love. He majors in journalism with an outside concentration in Spanish.

This summer, Bloom worked for The Daily Monitor newspaper in Kampala, Uganda, with a special assignments team investigating the region’s increase of HIV prevalence. During the school year, he produces news and feature stories with a team of writers, photographers and videographers at Inside IU Bloomington, Indiana University Communications’ largest online publication.

He’s actively seeking internship opportunities for spring and summer 2015, and he aspires to report on health and social issues affecting people across the globe.

His passions outside of journalism include jamming out Alicia Keys and John Legend tunes on piano, as well as performing with Full Frontal Comedy, IU’s longest-running improv troupe.

If you spot any errors in his bio, please contact him at 317-701-0392. He’d like to know about them immediately.


Myrtha_Olivares_BonillaMyrtha Olivares Bonilla is a journalist, social media manager, photojournalist, and actress. She studies journalism at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus, and minors in Italian and French. She is also completing a certificate in Women’s and Gender Studies. She is one of the founding editors of Entre Parentesis, a web journal focused on international and cultural stories.

Olivares Bonilla was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and raised in Yauco, a small town in the south of the island. She is passionate about books, arts, poetry, languages, photography, journalism, and theater. She is also interested in travel and culture.

Olivares Bonilla is particularly interested in narrative journalism and human interest stories.




Sammy_CaiolaSammy Caiola is a recent graduate of the Medill School of Journalism and a current intern at The Sacramento Bee. She specializes in metro reporting on a range of issues including health, environment, food, art and theater.

During her college career, Caiola edited Opinion for The Daily Northwestern, covered arts and entertainment for TimeOut Chicago and wrote hilarious, pun-filled captions for Native Foods Cafe’s recently published vegan cookbook. During her real-life career, she hopes to report news and/or features at a community paper or magazine.

For her Connect project, Caiola wrote about LGBT veterans and their health-care needs.





Mary_DominguezMary Dominguez is a rising junior at Temple University in Philadelphia and is studying journalism with a specialization in Arts and Music. She is currently an arts reporter for Phawker, an online pop-culture publication based in Philadelphia. She is also a photographer of live events, especially of local concerts.

Although Dominguez has traveled up and down the East Coast, she took her first flight to come to the NLGJA convention in Chicago. In the future, she hopes to travel along the West Coast, and eventually to international destinations.

For her Connect project, Dominguez wrote about how LGBT movements are supported by social media. She explored specific campaigns, how people reach out to the internet for advocacy and support, and how people have used the internet to create an LGBT community.



Andrew_HolzmanAndrew Holzman is a rising junior at the University of Chicago. This summer, a grant from the Chicago Headline Club Foundation is supporting him in an internship with the city’s Rivet News Radio. During his time in Chicago, Holzman has worked as an intern with WGN News Radio and as a freelance multimedia reporter for the Hyde Park Herald. His Connect project brought together his reporting interest in government and politics and his longtime passion for community activism involving disadvantaged elders. His story focuses on the specific challenges facing LGBT adults over 60. He also wrote about an effort by Getty Images to increase the representation of LGB families in its stock art collection.





Ryan_HoweRyan Howe is a senior journalism news major at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind. He has spent his college career working for the Ball State Daily News as a features reporter and editor, and managing editor of the paper’s iPad publication 72HRS. He interned at the Evansville Courier and Press, NUVO Newsweekly and Gay City News, and he freelanced from the 2014 Winter Olympics with BSU at the Games. He graduates in December 2014.

For his Connect project, he did a video profile of Chicago artist Matt Morris.

Howe grew up in New Castle, Ind. In his very limited spare time, he attends drag shows, rides his bike and binge-watches Netflix originals.




Sara_PattersonSara Patterson is a senior at Temple University in Philadelphia. She is majoring in journalism, with a special interest in broadcasting. She hopes to pursue a career in broadcast news producing.

During her time at Temple, Patterson has worked as a columnist at the student-run newspaper, The Temple News, writing about LGBT issues and culture. She also interned at the Arts & Entertainment section of Philadelphia’s City Paper, an alternative weekly newspaper. After shifting her focus to broadcast, she started volunteering on Temple’s daily news show, “Temple Update Now,” working behind the scenes with other students to produce the broadcast.

For her Connect project, Patterson wrote about gay athletes coming out and how those stories are covered by mainstream sports media and the gay media.