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SBU honors three faculty members with awards of excellence

Apr 26, 2024

2024 Faculty Award winners (from left) Dr. José Manuel Medrano, Dr. James Pientka, Jeffrey WarnerThree St. Bonaventure University faculty members were presented with awards of excellence at the university’s annual Staff & Faculty Excellence Awards celebration on Thursday, April 25.

Photos (from left): Dr. José Manuel Medrano, Dr. James Pientka, Jeffrey Warner.

Dr. José Manuel Medrano, assistant professor of Spanish in the Department of World Languages and Cultural Studies, received the Junior Faculty Award; Dr. James Pientka, professor of Physics and department chair, received the Professional Excellence in Teaching Award; and Jeffrey Warner, adjunct instructor of Spanish, received the Adjunct Faculty Award.

Medrano, who joined the SBU faculty in 2019, “excels in every category as a faculty member,” said Dr. David Hilmey, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, one of a number of colleagues to recommend him for the honor. “We often see faculty excel at teaching, research or service; on occasion two of those three categories. Very rarely does a faculty member achieve outstanding performance in all three.”

His scholarship is prodigious, Hilmey added. “In his short time at SBU he was able to publish a book chapter and four peer-reviewed articles. He was the keynote speaker in Colombia at an international conference, and he has also presented at 12 different national and international conferences in his time at SBU, and his work continues on this amazing pace.”

Medrano’s consistently high evaluations from students are impressive, even remarkable, said Dr. Robin Maria Valeri, professor of psychology. “It is obvious from student comments that they enjoy Dr. Medrano’s classes and feel that they learn a great deal.”

Equally impressive is Medrano’s service to the university, from serving on committees to volunteering at SBU’s Warming House soup kitchen, Valeri said.

Medrano earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish from UCLA, as well as a master’s in Spanish and a Ph.D. in Latin American Literature from the University of California, Riverside. Before he arrived at SBU, he was a visiting assistant professor of Hispanic Studies at Pacific Lutheran University.

While at SBU, he has received the Good Shepherd Award from University Ministries and the Leo E. Keenan Jr. Faculty Appreciation Award.

In nominating Pientka for the Professional Excellence in Teaching Award, Dr. Maureen P. Cox, associate professor of mathematics, noted Pientka’s love of physics and his “unfailingly enthusiastic” approach to students. “He makes physics fun, while maintaining a high standard for conceptual and mathematical understanding, by creating engaging classroom activities using physical demonstrations and animations,” Cox said.

Benjamin MacConnell, a 2022 SBU graduate who is a second-year student in the Medical Physics Ph.D. program at the University of Massachusetts, Lowel, called Pientka “the best professor I’ve had in my educational experience, from high school to undergraduate and even graduate school.” He credits Pientka, his academic and research adviser at SBU, with paving the way to his acceptance at UMass.

“The best” is a common term used in student evaluations of Pientka, said Dr. Jerry Kiefer, retired professor of physics. “Dr. Pientka conveys to the students his genuine enjoyment of the
course subject matter and his desire that they enjoy it, too. He welcomes questions and
comments. Students are impressed by his mastery of the subject matter of every course.” 

Many of Pientka’s former students “have raved about his teaching to me,” said Dr. Christine Uhl, associate professor of Mathematics, adding his love of teaching extends beyond the classroom. “I have also observed the very important ‘outside of the classroom’ aspect of his teaching: students in his office asking questions, students completing tutorials with him, students doing research with him. Dr. Pientka is extremely student-focused,” she said.

Pientka earned bachelor’s degrees in Physics and Adolescence Education from Canisius University and a Ph.D. in Physics from the University at Buffalo. Before his arrival at SBU in 2014, he taught physics at Canisius, UB, and Erie Community College. He serves on several SBU committees and as the science representative on the Faculty Senate. He is the adviser to the university’s ORION Astronomy Club.

Adjunct Faculty Award winner Warner, a retired high school Spanish teacher, “has been sustaining a pattern of excellence his entire career,” said Dr. Leigh Simone, assistant professor of Spanish and chair of the Department of World Languages and Cultural Studies. 

“Because of his experience, Jeff knows what works,” Simone said. “He is detailed, organized, precise, and disciplined. His students will tell you he is comical, inventive, and gets the message across even if it means jumping up and down to make a point.”

Several students supported Warner with letters of recommendation.

“He is a truly amazing, interactive, and passionate professor who strives to keep his class lively and interesting,” said Ciara Pine, a senior Health and Society major. “He is always there to help students, available for a visit to his office, or a quick email almost 24/7.”

Delaney Mazza, a junior Inclusive Childhood and Early Childhood Education major, said Warner teaches with infectious passion and enthusiasm, and that his classes are as welcoming as they are educational. “His ability to make every student feel appreciated and valued created a dynamic and supportive learning environment that encouraged us to engage deeply with the subject matter,” Mazza said.

Warner graduated from St. Bonaventure with a bachelor’s degree in English in 1985, earned a master’s in curriculum and instruction from Gannon University in 2004, and took master’s level Spanish for professional certification courses from Elmira College.

He taught Spanish for 15 years at Andover Central School, and before that taught Spanish at four other schools in Cattaraugus and Allegany counties. He has also been an adjunct instructor at Corning Community College.


About the University: The nation’s first Franciscan university, St. Bonaventure University is a community committed to transforming the lives of our students inside and outside the classroom, inspiring in them a lifelong commitment to service and citizenship. Out of 167 regional universities in the North, St. Bonaventure was ranked #6 for value and #14 for innovation by U.S. News and World Report (2024).