UNCG Alum Makes Somethin’ Outta Nothin’ in New Cookbook

Posted on February 27, 2024

UNCG alum Lorenzo Espada does a cooking demo with Jennifer Hudson

Lorenzo Espada ’20 knew he wanted to be a chef since he was six years old: “I used to always watch cooking shows, while also learning from my mother and grandmother. Then I just started trial and error.”

That childhood aspiration has now become a reality with his first published cookbook, a massive social media following, and even an appearance on “The Jennifer Hudson Show.” Espada has found his way and come full circle, but one important stop on that journey was UNC Greensboro.

THE PERFECT RECIPE

“I started out as a kinesiology major, wanting to go into physical therapy,” says Espada, who is from Gastonia, North Carolina. Then, I had my daughter in 2019 and needed to transition to online education. That’s when I found the integrated professional studies program.”

Espada earned a bachelor of science degree in professional studies from UNCG’s College of Arts and Sciences in 2020. He credits the program with helping him earn his degree while juggling the demands of raising a family. The professional studies degree program is fully online and designed for working professionals to help them develop depth in their area of interest.

“I was working at the time and focusing on that degree helped me settle down and figure out what direction I wanted to go,” he says. “It was perfect for me.”

It was also at UNCG where he started to polish his professional cooking skills – selling hot meals to students.

“I had this idea around how college students can’t get that home-cooked meal every weekend,” he says. “So, I was trying to figure out how to incorporate that sort of nice Sunday meal experience.”

EATING WITH ZO

Soon, Espada was doing catering, planning brunches, and organizing private dinners. All the while, he was also posting on social media, updating his followers on his recipes.

“I was just trying to get my feet wet and make content,” he says. “I really didn’t know what I was doing. So, it took a long time to get where I am today.”

After graduating amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Espada zeroed in on his cooking aspirations and social media efforts. Now, he has about 2 million followers on his Instagram and TikTok all focused on one rule: keep it simple.

“I want to show you how to make amazing recipes that not only look good, but are easy to make and taste good,” he says. “I don’t believe in making something that takes five million steps and then you come out with the wrong product at the end.”

SOMETHIN’ OUTTA NOTHIN’

Espada also started writing e-cookbooks to share his recipes, but in 2023 he went offline and onto bookstore shelves with his first physical cookbook “Somethin’ Outta Nothin’.”

“It was the first time I ever was able to have a physical product in people’s hands and homes,” he says. “It was amazing. It’s still mind blowing to me.”

When designing the cookbook, Espada kept in mind his theme of simplicity and ease.

“I didn’t want it to come off as Michelin 5 Star restaurant plating quality. I wanted it to look nice, but at the same time, look like it could be in your kitchen,” he says.

The cookbook features 100 different “creative comfort food” recipes, including twice-baked loaded chicken and broccoli potatoes, crab cake stuffed cheddar biscuits, and peach cobbler pound cake.

Jammin’ with JHud

Espada even had the chance to share his sweet potato stuffed French toast recipe with Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony winner Jennifer Hudson when he was invited on her daytime talk show.

“It was a surreal moment,” he says. “Jennifer Hudson was amazing. It was a moment where I was able to go on national television and showcase my story, showcase who I am with my recipes, and just have fun,” he says. “It’s just this energetic and authentic moment. I’m all about authenticity.”

Espada has done cooking demos in the past, including on a YouTube show promoted by chef Gordon Ramsay, but his success continues to rise, and he says none of it would have happened without UNCG.

“The University education got me to where I am today,” he says. “I turned 18 the day I got to college and started developing my social and problem-solving skills, then learning how to start a business. I definitely credit UNCG for that.”

Story by Avery Craine Powell, University Communications
Photography courtesy of Lorenzo Espada

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Honoring Black Artists: Princess Johnson

Posted on February 26, 2024

UNCG alumna Princess Johnson smiles

UNCG alumna Princess Johnson ‘07 will be taking audiences on “The Hair Journey,” in her original ballet, premiering in April. Tickets are now on sale.

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Funding Friday: Farm Resilience and Lithium

Posted on February 23, 2024

A UNCG faculty member and student work with plants in the greenhouse.

Nearly two dozen funding announcements support faculty’s efforts to better understand topics such as anticancer leads, childhood obesity risks, and outdoor recreation.

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UNCG Professors Spark Innovative Learning in NC High Schools

Posted on February 23, 2024

2 professors make a presentation about esports academic endeavors to other adults in the esports arena.
Greg Greive and John Borchert work with other professors to develop academic content related to video gaming. Photo by Sean Norona.

UNC Greensboro’s commitment to developing a pipeline that streams students into profitable jobs in the video game industry now includes reaching into high school classrooms.  

UNCG Scholastic Esports Alliance and the Network for the Cultural Study of Videogaming (NCSV) has partnered with SparkNC to provide on-demand learning experiences for high school students designed by UNCG professors.  

Igniting High School Minds 

SparkNC is a non-profit organization that works with school districts across the state to encourage students to discover careers in high-tech fields like cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and software development. Currently, SparkNC is connected with 17 North Carolina school districts to offer students educational opportunities outside of the traditional classroom in SparkLabs.  

Students in a SparkNC classroom watch a monitor featuring an instructor who is leading the class virtually.
High schoolers in a SparkLab.

In these lab settings, students choose from a catalog of learning experiences that build their skills in a personalized way, and SparkLab leaders have flexibility to support their students in collaborative ways. Students explore the units at their own pace and once completed, they can demonstrate their skills by building portfolio entries to share when they apply for college or tech jobs.  

This is the ideal environment to present high school students with educational concepts related to video gaming and introduce them to career paths they may not be aware of. Since professors are already offering courses like this at UNCG, helping SparkNC develop curricula was simple. 

Adapting College Courses for High Schoolers 

UNCG faculty members from varied disciplines drew from courses they teach to develop the units that were introduced through the SparkNC digital platform in the fall of 2023. 

“The professors were challenged with adapting their courses to make them accessible to a highschooler,” SparkNC Senior Director Dana Brinson explains. “But I love the intellectual rigor that each professor brought to the modules. Students are supported to build their analytical skills and use conceptional thinking that they may not even be aware of because it is packaged in such an intriguing and interesting way. It was a great marriage of the skill sets of both of our teams.” 

Content of the units includes video game designing, video game theory, and using video games to learn other subjects: 

When a Spark Lab student selects one of the UNCG modules, they immediately see the UNCG esports logo with credit that the lessons are made possible through a partnership with the NCSV and through the expertise of the professor who developed the course. “We really thought it was important for students to understand that these are examples of areas of learning that are possible at UNCG,” says Brinson. 

Screenshot of a desktop with SparkLab dashboard featuring video game controller icons and unit names.

Fueling Academic Interests 

The game design units have been very popular in the Spark Labs, not only for gamers who want to design their own creations, but for students who are interested in music or art and want to apply their passions to a medium like video games. The music unit has inspired many students to build their own video game soundtracks.  

Student in a SparkLab works with an instructor.
SparkLab student studies video game soundtracks with his instructor.

Individual learners appreciate the buildable skills offered by the modules and traditional classes have also been using the Spark Lab units developed by UNCG professors. High school teachers are finding that units like “Questioning Narratives” reinforce concepts taught in classes like language arts in ways that are engaging for high schoolers.  

Brinson says that new educational connections are discovered every day.  

“Our Guilford County Schools lab brought in a health class to explore UNCG’s ‘Health Hacks for Esports’ unit and study nutrition and mental health for competitive gamers,” Brinson says. “And our New Hanover County Schools lab students were inspired by music from a game they explored in the “Gods, Heroes and Monsters” unit, so they reached out to the composer, Darren Korb, who joined the lab via zoom to talk about his work and the process of world building in games through music.”   

Broadening UNCG’s Educational Reach 

Professor talks to a student in the esports arena.
John Borchert discusses connects with a student in the esports arena. Photo by Sean Norona.

Contributing professor and NCSV Director John Borchert is passionate about reaching students in new ways through partnerships like this one. 

“I have this dream of a student completing high school by learning in modules like SparkNC provides, and then coming to a school like UNCG where they can continue learning and building skill sets that are truly based on their specific interests and goals,” Borchert says.  

UNCG’s involvement in the project illustrates the University’s commitment to improving education in North Carolina and enhancing the state’s economy through career prep for high-tech industries. Furthermore, the partnership presents UNCG educational opportunities directly to prospective students. It’s a win-win effort for all involved. 

“Partnerships like this make education better for all learners in North Carolina,” Borchert says. “I’d love to roll out more of these modules as we introduce new courses. It’s a great model for making higher education accessible for all.” 

Story by Becky Deakins, University Communications.
Photography submitted by SparkNC, unless otherwise noted.

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Meet the Meshroom: A Mash-Up of Art, Dance, and Music

Posted on February 23, 2024

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Posted on February 22, 2024

UNCG professor Robin Gee dances with her back turned to camera. A group of people dancers in front of her.

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Baseball Upsets No. 1 Wake Forest

Posted on February 21, 2024

UNCG baseball team upsets Wake Forest

The UNC Greensboro baseball team upset No. 1 Wake Forest on Tuesday night, 4-3 at the UNCG Baseball Stadium.  

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Visiting Fulbright Scholar Brings Opportunity to Oberlies Research Group  

Posted on February 26, 2024

Visiting Fulbright Scholar Vanida Choomenwai works in the lab at UNCG Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

Professor Nick Oberlies and the UNC Greensboro Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry will soon say a bittersweet goodbye to visiting Fulbright Scholar Vanida Choomuenwai. The impact of her research grant extends well beyond the six months the Thai chemist has been at UNCG.   

“Being a Fulbright and working here has opened a thousand doors and opportunities for me in my life,” says Choomuenwai. 

Choomuenwai runs her own lab in northeastern Thailand and teaches at Nakhon Ratchasima Rajaphat University where she works with local plants and herbs. Her research focuses on organic chemistry, organic synthesis, and natural products.  

Fungi inspired application 

Choomuenwai applied for the Fulbright grant because she wanted to learn more about how the Oberlies Research Group investigates fungi. Housed in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, the Oberlies Research Group studies bioactive compounds from nature, largely from the viewpoint of natural products chemistry that reveal the biological potential of natural compounds, one of Choumenwai’s research focuses. 

“There is a lot of equipment here that I don’t have at home, and after going back, I can modify equipment in my own lab to do research,” she says. Learning how to use the equipment in the Oberlies lab inspired her to embrace new research techniques. 

“I’ve got every tool she needs,” Oberlies says. “And of course she’s always down in the lab using them. I love that.” 

Choomuenwai in return shared her expertise and knowledge with UNCG students.  

“She’s got a little more experience in synthetic chemistry than I do,” Oberlies says. “She’s given students a perspective I can’t provide and a bit of science I don’t know as much about.”  

Beyond sharing her experience, she’s helped create a joyful culture in the lab. Organizing birthday card signings and showing her appreciation for students and researchers in the lab.  

“Everybody likes to be appreciated. Esprit de corps—she’s good at that,” Oberlies says.  “She’s led by example and helped some of the students get their feet under themselves in the lab.” 

Benefits Beyond the Lab 

Choomuenwai embraced being in the U.S. She traveled to other cities and states and built a community of friends. She met other chemists and Fulbright Scholars from around the world, including a Vietnamese biologist with whom she intends to collaborate in the future. 

Oberlies sees Choomuenwai’s Fulbright Fellowship as an investment. His department has had several doctoral students from abroad and continues to cultivate relationships outside of the U.S.  

“The great thing about natural products chemistry is you can do it anywhere. The more we can train people to study nature before it’s gone the better,” he says. “You give people a little bit of training in this and then they can go light the world on fire in their own backyard.” 

Oberlies has helped around a dozen candidates write Fulbright applications, and he credits Maria Anastasiou, associate provost for international programs, as essential to being able to successfully bring Choomuenwai to UNCG on a Fulbright fellowship. 

“Maria encouraged me not to give up,” he says. “She is the one who said, ‘let’s do this, we’ll help you.’” 

Following the successful fellowship with Choomuewai, Oberlies is hopeful for future collaborations. 

“What I would love to do is not just have Vanida visit for six months and never see her again; I would like to visit her, talk to her students, recruit a student from Thailand. I would love for her to return. Now that we’ve developed an initial relationship, I would love to expand it. I would expand it for my lab, and for the Department of Chemistry and by extension, UNCG,” Oberlies says. 

Story by Alexis L. Richardson

Photography by David Lee Row, University Communications

A female professor discusses the world map on a tripod stand and points out locations to a female student

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UNCG Center Brings out the Best in Children

Posted on February 21, 2024

A young girl interacts with a woman across a table.

For the past 20 years, CYFCP’s Bringing Out the Best has lived up to its name by helping Guilford County residents under 5 years old overcome behavioral, social, and emotional challenges. The long-standing program adopts an immersive and evidence-based approach, working with the child, teacher, and parents within the child’s preschool or childcare setting. The intervention is part of UNCG’s Center for Youth, Family and Community Partnerships.

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UNCG Students Make a (Teeth) Shining Impact in Guatemala

Posted on February 21, 2024

Group of people in Guatemala

Students who want to pursue a medical specialty, like dentistry, can find opportunities that not only give them real world experience in their chosen field but fill their desire to serve. Over the winter break, members of the UNCG chapter of VAW Global Health Alliance visited Guatemala to work in a dental clinic.

VAW Global Health Alliance is a global health and development organization that works around the world to provide medical, dental, and veterinary treatment.

ON THE RIGHT TRACK

The students went to San Pedro La Laguna and were able to shadow dentists while they worked on patients in the clinic while also helping with prep stations, taking blood, and measuring blood pressure.

“You could see what the dentist was doing, and they would explain everything to you, which was super helpful,” says Gabriela Cruz, a junior studying biology with minors in chemistry and psychology. “We cycled through five or six stations, so everyone got an equal amount of experience.”

Cruz is interested in going to dental school after graduating. At UNCG, students are able to declare a preprofessional interest track to help form their education around  future goals in fields like medicine, law, dentistry, and engineering.

The option to do a preprofessional interest track is what encouraged fourth-year student Reagan Calhoun to apply to UNCG.

“UNCG was the only school I applied to,” says Calhoun, who went on the trip and is a member of the UNCG Dental Club and the UNCG chapter of VAW Global Health Alliance. “I liked UNCG’s message, and they had a great science department.”

A PERSONAL CHOICE

For both Cruz and Calhoun, their interest in dentistry is personal and started at a young age.

“My sister had problems with her teeth growing up, and I think everyone deserves a flattering smile. No one should feel insecure about how they look,” says Cruz, who is also a member of the UNCG women’s golf team. “I always appreciate a smile. It’s the first characteristic you notice about someone.”

Calhoun (left) on the trip in Guatemala.

Cruz says she had a good relationship with her pediatric dentist. Her aunt, who is also a dentist, also served as a role model.

“My aunt and I have similar personalities and its cool to see a woman have such a strong career,” she says.

Like Cruz, Calhoun wants to help others feel more comfortable in the dental chair.

“I was in and out of the dental chair when I was younger, going through surgeries,” says Calhoun, a sociology major with double minors in chemistry and biology. “And while I enjoyed the dentist, my sister did not. So, I want to change the environment and make the dentist office a better experience for people like my sister.”

The students also had the opportunity to make impressions of teeth, a useful skill for entering the field.

“We took our friend’s impressions, and they took ours, so we got to make an actual model of what our teeth look like,” says Cruz.

HUMBLING EXPERIENCE

Calhoun and Cruz say the experience in Guatemala was humbling as they were making an impact in communities that did not have easy access to dentistry work.

“In the United States, we are fortunate for what we have, and the people there were so grateful for us being there,” says Calhoun.

After seeing the condition of some patients in Guatemala, Cruz says she was inspired more than ever to help others. When she becomes a dentist, she hopes to do volunteer work and give back to people who don’t have access to dental care, both in the U.S. and abroad.

“We take our dental care for granted a lot,” says Cruz. “I’m not saying dentistry is perfect in the U.S., but I wish there was access for more people. I’m a giver. I always like to help people, and this made me want to help even more.”

Story by Avery Craine Powell, University Communications
Photography courtesy of Gabriela Cruz and Reagan Calhoun
Additional photography courtesy of stock.adobe.com

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