Skip to main content

Graduate Spotlight: Saleh takes the 'road less traveled' to earn nursing degree

Kim Chaudoin | 

Diana Saleh official player portrait.

Diana Saleh has never let the fear of trying something new stop her. 

As a high school junior in Dearborne, Michigan, Saleh decided to try out for the girls’ basketball team. Most of her peers had years of playing experience having been on teams since middle school. But she did not let that diminish her determination to make the team.

It was a decision that would have a profound impact on the trajectory of her life leading her to Lipscomb University where she has been a standout on the women’s basketball team and a leader in the classroom as a nursing major. In May, she will graduate with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree, the second in women's basketball program history to do so. Former Bison Kennedy Potts was the first to graduate with a Lipscomb BSN in 2018. 

At Fordson High School in Dearborn, Saleh was an outstanding student, making the academic honor roll four times and earning her pharmacy tech certification. She lettered in volleyball, track and field, shot put and discus — and she quickly became a success on the basketball court. In her short, two-year high school playing career she was named all-conference twice, earned All-West Team honorable mention honors, was team captain for a year and was named the team defensive MVP.

Playing NCAA Div. 1 college basketball was not on her radar.

“I was already late on playing the sport itself and the whole recruitment process. I played my last high school basketball game with zero offers and no intent of playing college basketball,” Saleh explains. “I met a coach that day, the day of my last high school basketball game, who told me I had a ‘high ceiling’ and helped me get my recruitment process started.” 

She soon connected with an assistant coach with the Bison women’s basketball team, “and I committed to Lipscomb within 24 hours after speaking to head coach, Lauren Sumski.”

“The coaching staff was nothing short of amazing and they took me in as I was,” says Saleh. “I vividly remember going on Google and typing in ‘Nashville, Tennessee,’ to see what the next four years of my life would look like. I had never left my hometown for anything at the time and I was only 18 years old. So you could only imagine how afraid I was.”

Diana Saleh in white coat

Saleh arrived at Lipscomb ready for her new adventure and easily acclimated to campus life. Soon thereafter, she decided to pursue a nursing degree because the career fit well with her desire to serve others. 

“When people ask me ‘why nursing,’ I feel like I could go on and on about why nursing is the perfect career for me,” shares Saleh. “I absolutely love helping others. When I first started the program, though, I was not familiar with what nursing really involved. As I started clinical rotations, I began seeing what people go through and got a feel for how impactful nurses are in people’s lives.” 

“Even as just a nursing student and not really having started my career yet, hearing families thank me, tell me I changed their lives and tell me that they thought I am going to be an amazing nurse, I fell in love with the profession even more,” she continues. “I absolutely cannot wait to be a nurse.”

Being an NCAA Div. 1 student athlete is demanding with an intense schedule of practices, conditioning, travel, games and other commitments to represent the program and university. She did not let the fear of balancing a rigorous academic program with the demands of being an athlete stop her from pursuing these dreams.

“Doing this simultaneously has definitely been an experience,” admits Saleh. “When I first started the program, I genuinely was not sure I would make it through. Both basketball and nursing are very time consuming and require flexibility, focus, discipline and just require you to be on point at all times.” 

Diana Saleh on the court

Juggling these responsibilities, Saleh learned how to utilize her time, knowing she had to eat well, sleep well, wake up for practice early in the mornings, go to class and immediately study afterwards. Developing a routine, writing notes to herself, meticulous planning and communicating well with professors was key to keeping everything in her life in balance.

“Throughout my last semester of nursing school, I would use my off days to get my clinical hours in and I would sometimes miss practice the day before our Saturday games to go to clinical,” she says. “I feel extremely blessed to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing while being a part of the women's basketball team. Hopefully I can be a role model to those in the future who want to join our women’s basketball program and want to pursue a nursing degree. Anything is possible when you set your mind to it.”

Saleh says it is difficult to put into words how the experience as a member of the women’s basketball team impacted her life. 
“Not only did I become a better basketball player, but I went from being a little girl who had never left home before to being a grown woman that is ready for all the real world has to throw at me,” she says. “I love being a student-athlete because it has challenged me and pushed me every single day, which has taught me how to deal with any adversity. There was no such thing as an ‘easy day’ for me, especially during the nursing program itself, and I’m so grateful for that because it has shaped me into who I am today.” 

While Saleh credits many people along her journey at Lipscomb with having inspired her, she says one that in particular had a profound impact on her life — Associate Head Coach Chris Sumski. “Not only did he put in countless hours outside of practices and helped me become the player I am today, he made my transition from high school and home to Lipscomb a million times easier and he also would teach me lessons that go far beyond basketball, like never giving up, being resilient, believing in yourself and saying positive things to yourself at all times,” she explains. “He would wish me good luck before all of my exams, eat with me in the cafe, was there for me when no one else was in my freshman year and so much more. I am forever grateful to have had him throughout my college career and I cannot imagine what I would have done without him.”

Saleh at women's basketball senior night.

Saleh describes her experience at Lipscomb as “incredible.” 

“The environment and the people I had the opportunity to encounter everyday was so different from most universities you could go to,” she reflects. “The professors were amazing, genuine and so loving. All my girls, throughout all four years of playing basketball, were so genuine and loving as well. Being at a faith-based school has also impacted me so much. Having people that pray over you, praying at the beginning of classes and at the end of classes, praying with your friends … brings a sense of comfort and peace into your life every single day and you can’t just find that anywhere you go.”

In just a few weeks, Saleh, the daughter of immigrants from Lebanon, will celebrate the completion of her college degree — the first generation in her family to do so — and of the life-transforming experience she found at Lipscomb.

“Reaching this milestone makes me so happy and just a bit emotional. I have been pushed so far out of my comfort zone, and I feel like I have grown so much from that. There were days and periods of time that were so hard but I’m glad I persevered through,” she says. “Being able to get a degree, especially a nursing degree, is so important to me, more than anyone will ever know, especially coming from a family that did not have much. Growing up, all I ever heard, especially from my father, was ‘get your education, it’s so important,’ because he never had the chance to and now, being able to have successfully done that, brings tears to my eyes.”

Following graduation, Saleh says she plans on using her fifth year of eligibility (her COVID-19 year) to continue playing basketball and pursuing a master’s degree in health care administration.

— Nursing photo: Kristi Jones; Athletics Photos: Lipscomb Athletics