news-category: In Memoriam

Gardner-Webb Campus Community Remembers Life of Dr. Dianne Sykes

Frank Nanney Hall

Associate Professor of Sociology and Department Chair Passed Away on Dec. 11

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—The Gardner-Webb University campus community is remembering a friend, colleague and professor. Dr. Dianne Sykes, associate professor of sociology, passed away on Dec. 11, 2023.

Dr. David K. Yelton, professor of history, said Sykes was tremendously dedicated to her students’ success. For several years, his office was next door to hers in Frank Nanney Hall. “Frequently, she spent hours in one-on-one meetings with them,” he shared. “Her patience with them was boundless, and she had a real gift for empathizing with students in need. She didn’t seek publicity or reward for that, she just did it because of her commitment and her caring personality. In many ways, her actions exemplified the true spirit of any Christian institution … ‘Love thy neighbor.’ That’s what I’ll always remember about Dianne.”

Dr. Dianne Sykes

In June 2007, Yelton was chair of the Department of Social Sciences and leader of the search committee that brought Sykes to Gardner-Webb from Berea College in Kentucky, where she was an assistant professor. She also taught at Blinn Community College in Bryan, Texas, and Marian College in Wisconsin.

While Yelton knew Sykes for 16 years, Dr. Aihua Zhang, assistant professor of history, has only know her four years. When she came to GWU from New Jersey in 2019, Sykes offered to help her find a place to live. “After I arrived, she introduced me to local resources and culture and offered me lots of valuable suggestions to help me quickly adapt to a new environment,” Zhang reflected. “Dianne was a very caring, empathetic and compassionate person. She always stopped by my office to say hello to me and share interesting stories. When I had a need or difficulty, I liked to talk with her, because she provided not only useful advice but also encouragement and support. I’m so grateful that I have had Dianne as my colleague and friend in my life.”

Professor of history, Dr. Tim Vanderburg, described Sykes as a servant leader. “She was a champion of the underdog, the overlooked and the down and out,” he observed. “As a department chair, she fostered unity and comradeship among our three disciplines. Her kindness, empathy and servanthood will be greatly missed.”

Sykes earned her Ph.D. in 1999 from Texas A&M University in College Station. In 1990, she received her Master of Arts in Teaching (social studies and English) from Pacific University in Forest Grove, Ore. After earning her degree, she taught at a home for boys, a summer migrant program, an alternative school, and a high school. She graduated summa cum laude in 1989 with her bachelor’s degree from George Fox University in Newberg, Ore.

Throughout her 33-year career in education, Sykes focused her research on a variety of areas: multicultural education, media and children, telecommunications, and animal rights and rescue organizations. She specialized in social theory, social change, gender, minority groups, and criminal justice.

She wrote numerous articles for various publications such as the “Latino Studies Journal,” “Free Inquiry in Creative Sociology,” and “Food and Society.” She also presented her research at the American Society of Humanistic Sociology, American Sociological Association in Washington, D.C., and the American Sociological Association in San Francisco.

She was a member of the American Sociological Association and the North Carolina Sociological Association.

Dr. Dianne Sykes presents an award to a student in 2018.

Gardner-Webb University is North Carolina’s recognized leader in private, Christian higher education. A Carnegie-Classified Doctoral/Professional University, GWU is home to nine colleges and schools, more than 80 undergraduate and graduate majors, and a world-class faculty. Located on a beautiful 225-acre campus in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb prepares graduates to impact their chosen professions, equips them with the skills to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and inspires them to make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of others. Ignite your future at

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