Pre-Social Work Transfer Pathway Student Spotlight: Heather Azeltine

Heather Azeltine

Nontraditional student looking forward to earning BSW and MSW at Winona State

Social Work Month in March is a time to celebrate the great profession of social work. LEARN MORE…

Heather Azeltine, 47, is completing her Pre-Social Work Transfer Pathway A.S. at Inver Hills Community College. Recently divorced, Heather was inspired to enroll in college, earn an associate degree, and start a new career.

“I was a stay-at-home mom since 2004,” she said. “Before getting married, I worked for the Mayo Clinic Health System in Rochester as a health unit coordinator. I was also an EMT on a volunteer ambulance service in Zumbrota, Minnesota, and a flight attendant for Northwest Airlines.”

Heather was an avid volunteer while her two sons, Ryan and Adam, were growing up. Her volunteer experience includes working in a school classroom setting as well as serving as Parent Teacher Partnership (PTP) president and vice president, a Spirit Wear coordinator, Booster Club member, food shelf volunteer, St. Jude Ride/Run Fundraising Committee member, and Loaves and Fishes meal prep and service volunteer.

“I have been a youth leader at my church for the past three years,” Heather added, “and I will be finishing my internship serving teens in our community at Lakeville/Farmington TreeHouse. My internship is a requirement of the Pre-Social Work Transfer Pathway program.”

Heather participates Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society at Inver Hills. She is on track to graduate with her A.S. degree this spring.

“I’m looking forward to transferring to Winona State University to complete a Bachelor of Social Work (B.S.W.) followed by a Master of Social Work (M.S.W.),” Heather said. “My hope is to work within an agency that provides support to youth.”

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) holds an annual event in March called Social Work Month.

Social Work Month in March is a time to celebrate the great profession of social work. The theme for Social Work Month 2024 is Empowering Social Workers! Inspiring Action, Leading Change.

During Social Work Month, take time to learn more about the many positive contributions of the profession. Use the items in our Social Media Toolkit for Social Work Month 2024 to celebrate all the social workers you know.

NASW is hoping you will take this month’s theme to heart and help bring awareness to the awesome, life-changing work social workers do by sharing your stories across NASW social media:


Learn more about how you can celebrate Social Work Month 2024 by emailing

About NASW

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is the largest membership organization of professional social workers in the world. NASW works to enhance the professional growth and development of its members to create and maintain professional standards for social workers, and to advance sound social policies.

Faculty perspective: Jill Grover, MSW, LISW

Jill Grover serves as faculty in the Pre-Social Work program. Jill has been impressed by Heather’s determination and empathetic nature.

“Heather is an outstanding student, and I have had the privilege of having her in several of my classes,” Jill said. “She has dealt with many hurdles and personal battles in her life and continues to prioritize her own investment in herself despite these challenges. She has a true passion for learning and genuine desire to support others who are battling their own challenges in life. Heather is going to make a fantastic social worker someday!”

Jill reported that trained social workers are in high demand. “With the rise and growing awareness of mental health and social justice issues, our community needs more skilled and compassionate helping professionals now more than ever.  Our Pre-Social Work Transfer Pathway curriculum boasts small class sizes and offers a variety of electives for a personalized learning experience tailored to the career goals of our students.”

Jill added that the program’s required internship experience also provides a way for students to put their learning to practice before graduating and entering the field.

“Social work is an expansive and diverse industry both in terms of the types of settings employing social workers as well as the kinds of client populations served,” she said, noting that social workers can be employed at numerous institutions and entities:

  • Hospitals/clinics
  • County/state agencies
  • Schools
  • Nonprofit social service agencies
  • Home healthcare agencies
  • Libraries
  • Police departments
  • Corrections agencies
  • Animal welfare organizations
  • Legal advocacy organizations
  • Immigrant/refugee resettlement organizations
  • Private practice therapy
  • Mental health and chemical dependency treatment facilities
  • And so many more!

More about Heather…

Originally from Stewartville, Minnesota, a town with 6,800 residents in Olmsted County, Heather grew up in southern Minnesota on a hobby farm where her family raised sheep, horses, and chickens.

She participated in 4-H and Future Farmers of America (FFA). She graduated from Stewartville High School, Class of 1994.

Heather has two sons, Ryan, 19, a sophomore majoring in Sports Management at North Central University, and Adam, 16, who attended Farmington High School until switching to homeschooling as a junior.

In her free time, Heather enjoys volunteering with youth students at her church and supporting her own children in their sports and activities. She has resided in Farmington, Minnesota, since 2007.

Heather family and life gallery

One word that best describes your experience at Inver Hills:


Heather Azeltine Q & A

Heather Azeltine
What inspired you to pursue a Transfer Pathway A.S. in Pre-Social Work?

I knew that I wanted to pursue a degree in social work. The Transfer Pathway at Inver Hills offered an affordable way for me to achieve my A.S. degree and seamlessly transfer to a bachelor’s program at a four-year university.

What do you find most engaging about your Pre-Social Work coursework?

Our instructor, Jill Grover, MSW,LISW,CISW, does a really great job facilitating discussion that allows us to challenge our thinking and consider new perspectives. I appreciate the diversity in age and backgrounds that we have in our classes.

What traits and abilities do you have that can help make you a successful social worker?

I enjoy connecting with people. I believe that everyone has gifts and talents to offer those around them. I also know that we all experience hardships and should not have to navigate them alone. I consider it a privilege to walk alongside someone in their toughest moments.

What area of social work interests you the most and why?

In any area working with youth, whether it be in schools, the juvenile justice system, community outreach, or substance-abuse programs. The CDC reports a concerning trend: mental health disorders among teens are on the rise. Compounding this issue is the significant shortage of mental health workers. This combination is truly heartbreaking to me.

Three words that describe you as a college student:

What advice would you give someone thinking about going to college as a nontraditional student?

Don’t hesitate, just do it! It has truly been an amazing experience. Both traditional age and PSEO students have been incredibly accepting and inclusive. Don’t feel intimidated to build connections with the younger students. I’ve enjoyed participating in study groups with some fantastic peers; they have played a significant role in my success at Inver Hills.

What do you like best about attending Inver Hills?

I value the flexibility offered by the program. While I prefer taking classes on campus, my life circumstances prevent me from committing to full-time, in-person classes. Being able to take a combination of in-person and online classes has allowed me to accommodate my schedule and responsibilities.

What person has influenced your life the most and why?

I am fortunate to have had many influential people in my life. Watching my mom return to college at about the same age I am now, successfully balancing work, family, and college, has given me the encouragement to keep moving forward when the path feels overwhelming.

If you could make one thing happen on Earth right now, what would it be?

On Earth…I would ensure that every person has consistent access to food and shelter.

Heather Azeltine 12 Answers

  1. Favorite sport or physical activity: I wouldn’t say that I have a favorite sport or physical activity
  2. Place you would most like to visit: Australia
  3. Most exciting thing you’ve ever done: While on a scuba-diving in Cozumel, Mexico, we encountered several dolphins, and we were able to swim alongside them for several minutes
  4. Three things you would do if you won a $1 billion lottery: 1) Open youth centers throughout the state 2) Support missionaries around the world 3) Expand treatment options to battle the fentanyl and opioid crisis in Minnesota
  5. Best book or movie you’ve read or seen lately: I’m currently taking 20 credits…the only books or movies I have time to read or see lately are those assigned for class! That being said, I have been enjoying Born in Blood and Fire: A Concise History of Latin America by  John Charles Chasteen
  6. Time period (past or future) you would explore if you could time travel: The late 1990s so I could help to influence the trajectory of the opioid crisis in the United States
  7. One thing you most want to accomplish in your life: I want to be a part of making my community better
  8. Your national bird if you were your own country: Bald eagle for much the same reason it represents the United States
  9. Dream occupation: Youth counselor
  10. Person you would most like to meet: I’ve never felt a strong desire to meet famous people; instead, I’m drawn to connecting with individuals in my everyday life who offer valuable lessons, fostering my personal growth and development
  11. Skill you would most like to learn and master: I would like to learn and become fluent in Spanish
  12. Most important issue or problem facing humankind: Addiction has a profound effect on our society with adverse impacts on individual well-being, family dynamics, community function, and public health and safety
Learn more about the Pre-Social Work program at Inver Hills by contacting:

Inver Hills Community College
Virtual Visit

More about the Pre-Social Work program

Social work belongs to the field of human services that focuses on meeting human needs by applying methods, practices, and technologies from a vast, interdisciplinary knowledge base. Problem prevention and remediation as well as improving quality of life are the primary objectives of human services professionals.

Why Study Pre-Social Work at Inver Hills?

Help where you’re most needed.
Use your knowledge, values, understanding, competence, and empathy to directly improve the wellbeing of individuals and communities by helping meet their basic human needs.

You believe everyone matters.
People dealing with difficult circumstances struggle to find fulfillment in life. As a social worker, you will fight on their side, using your experience and expertise to make a lasting difference in their world.

Adapting to change is your strong suit.
Social work never stops evolving. New emphasis has moved to prevention and early intervention. If you feel primed to apply your talent and drive to help solve serious social challenges in innovative ways, social work might be your calling.

Be the voice for the voiceless.
People at risk need real assistance and understanding the most. Trouble is they are often the last to get the support they need. As a social worker, you will have the matchless capacity to step up on their behalf and persuade society to stop, pay attention, learn compassion, and race to the rescue.

Are you up for the biggest challenges of your life?
No two cases are exactly alike. That’s one of the first things you’ll learn as a social worker. Solving shifting problems with grit and creativity will become your second nature. Helping change someone’s life for the better can be uncommonly rewarding, but also emotionally demanding. Your intelligence and fortitude will be tested—then again, that’s a big reason you chose this profession.

Join a fast-growing, high-demand workforce.
CAREERwise includes four social work-related occupations on a list of 50 careers expected to grow at a faster rate than other careers from 2016 to 2026: Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers (18.1 percent), Health Care Social Workers (14.0 percent), Social and Community Service Managers (12.3 percent), and Social and Human Service Assistants (12.0 percent).

Pre-Social Work Career Paths

Make a genuine difference in our world.
Due to the nature of the work, which involves direct contact with vulnerable individuals, job applicants are carefully screened for professional and personal qualifications. Employers seek applicants with relevant academic credentials, work experience, and a history of volunteerism.

Career Opportunities

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for social workers approached $52,000 in May 2020. Overall employment of social workers in the U.S. is projected to grow 12 percent from 2020 to 2030, faster than the average for all occupations.

More than 78,000 openings for social workers are projected each year on average over the course of the decade.


Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers

Assess and treat people who struggle with addiction to substances such as alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.

Mental health and substance abuse social work is a very high-wage career that pays well above the statewide median wage of $24.25/hour.


Median: $32.31/hour
High: $40.58/hour

Seven-county Twin Cities metro

Median: $33.17/hour
High: $40.68/hour


In Minnesota, there are 2,690 workers employed in this small career. This career is currently in very high demand and seeing high growth (growth rate 14.9 percent in U.S.) compared to other careers.

There will be a need for about 2,707 new Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers to meet market demand between 2020–2030. This includes the demand due to replacement (workers leaving the occupation or retiring) as well as growth.

— Minnesota State CAREERwise Education (February 28, 2024)

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