Profiles | 23 May 2024

Undergraduate Profile: Tommy Balmat


Tommy Balmat is a Literature major with a Creative Writing concentration and an Anthropology minor at UC Santa Cruz. He is a 2023-2024 Humanities Public Fellow at THI with The American Prospect, a magazine and website that is devoted to promoting informed discourse on public-policy matters from a progressive perspective through a narrative interpretation of complex issues. In May, we sat down with Balmat to discuss his role as an Editorial Assistant contributing research, fact-checking, social media support, in addition to writing pieces for the website. 

Hi Tommy! Thanks for chatting with us about your public fellowship work. To begin, could you tell us a little bit about The American Prospect and what drew you to this opportunity? 

Effective storytelling allows people with antithetical perspectives to understand one another.

Of course, thank you! TAP is a public policy magazine based in Washington, D.C. Their reporting seeks to reveal the power structures at play behind the news stories you read. This mission excited me because it reminded me why I value journalism. Effective storytelling allows people with antithetical perspectives to understand one another. Good reporting allows you to understand how the world around you came to be. It can be a source of radical change by spurring political action or a tool to preserve the integrity of our society by holding the people in power accountable. 

What did you spend the majority of your time doing in this position? 

My primary responsibility was managing The Prospect’s social media pages by writing 8-10 posts a day advertising new articles. This was repetitive work, but it allowed me to experiment with sentence structures and practice condensing my language to highlight interesting words and phrases. I learned how to arouse excitement and intrigue for topics like banking reform and obscure tax policies.

I spent the other half of my time researching stories. These projects often began as I investigated seemingly simple problems, only to uncover cavernous rabbit holes. I left The Prospect with knowledge about niche subjects like the challenges to conducting prescribed burns and the intertwined origins of human and animal homelessness, not to mention an appreciation for just how big and complicated our world is.

What skills did you learn/build during your THI Public Fellowship at The American Prospect? What will you carry forward with you from the experience? 

I’ve been telling people I’m a writer for years, but until now, I didn’t have much tangible proof.

For five months, I’ve juggled the fellowship, my schoolwork, and my internship for the Creative Writing Program. I’ve adapted to the hustle and bustle of the business world. I now know how to manage competing priorities and deadlines, where to find calm moments over the course of a crowded workweek, and how to rearrange my schedule when life starts lifeing.

I’ve been telling people I’m a writer for years, but until now, I didn’t have much tangible proof. Articles published in a national magazine under my name are not only valuable tools in my search for a career, they’re also validating markers of my progress. 

As an Anthropology and Literature major, how did your work at The American Prospect connect with your academic studies? 

It was exciting to offer a national magazine a new perspective, specific to my interests and skillset.

Several of the story topics I pitched to my boss – settler-colonialist narratives in pop culture, indigenous land stewardship through cultural burning, transgender advocacy groups in India and America – were directly inspired by the research I conducted in my anthropology classes. It was exciting to offer a national magazine a new perspective, specific to my interests and skillset.

My literature coursework was the most relevant when I had to rely on my intuition as a writer to complete an assignment. Racing to meet the deadline for a final essay is stressful. At TAP, the stakes were higher, but the process was the same. If I ever felt overwhelmed or incapable of producing an article worthy of the magazine, I reminded myself that I know how to turn a thought into a sentence, into a paragraph, into an essay. Starting with what I knew, I made incremental progress towards big accomplishments. 

Could you share a specific anecdote or memory from your time as a THI Public Fellow that stands out to you? Is there a specific project you really enjoyed working on, or something you contributed to that you’re particularly proud of?

When pro-Palestine encampments began popping up at universities around the Bay Area, I knew I was observing an important moment in America’s history of student activism. I felt I had an obligation to use my platform to document it. Completely spur of the moment, I decided to leave Santa Cruz and interview members of the encampments to get a sense of their goals and experiences. For three days, I raced from UCB to Stanford to USF, speaking to dozens of new people. That weekend taught me how to draw important thoughts and emotions from people I’ve never met, absorb minute sensory details when you’re moving a million miles a minute, and condense it all into a coherent narrative. The experience was all the more worthwhile because I felt like I was contributing to an important cause by correcting harmful narratives about student protestors.

Would you encourage other students to consider pursuing a THI Public Fellowship? Why is it important to gain experiences outside of the university at institutions like The American Prospect

Cover image for the April 2024 print issue of The American Prospect.

Definitely. It’s a great way to meet people interested in the same field you are. By talking to other interns and professionals, you can learn how to do what they do, and develop an appreciation for the unique interests and perspectives only you can offer. 

What are you planning to do next? 

I want to keep writing, no matter what form that takes. Between the fellowship and my schoolwork, I write or think about writing nearly every hour of the day, which is satisfying, because I have endless opportunities to experiment and further hone my craft. I consider it the most valuable skill I have to offer the world, but I want to continue improving.

Banner Image: Recent covers from The American Prospect 

Thanks to the generosity of Michael Stern, TAP Board Member and UC Santa Cruz volunteer, The Humanities Institute (THI) is able to offer this annual fellowship at The American Prospect.