Student Spotlight: Mariana Pirela-Diaz

Pre-K teacher earning Pre-Social Work transfer degree

Mariana Pirela-Diaz, 48, is earning her Pre-Social Work Transfer Pathway Associate of Science (A.S.) degree at Inver Hills Community College. Mariana is on track to graduate in fall 2024. Her transfer plans are linked to her strong desire to better the lives of children and their families.

“I have worked with children for more than 25 years,” she said. “That has always been my passion. My goals are to be able to work in early childhood development in family and community services.”

Mariana works while attending Inver Hills as the lead pre-K teacher at the El Bosque Encantado Spanish Learning Center, a Spanish immersion school in Prior Lake, Minnesota. She has worked at the center for nine years.

Her duties include developing curriculums and lesson plans. She teaches her students key fundamentals such as numbers, colors, and shapes while helping them build their social and emotional skills.

Mariana holds a Business Administration from Rafael Belloso Chacin University in Marcaibo, Venezuela and a Child Development associate national credential from the Council for Professional Recognition. She is also a certified preschool teacher.

Social Work Month 2023¹

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 2023 is Social Work Breaks Barriers.

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 2023 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 2023 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. She related that Mariana’s generous and compassionate spirit makes her ideally suited for social work .

“Mariana has the biggest heart and is an incredible listener—two things that will make her an amazing human services professional someday,” Jill said. “Mariana is always working hard to broaden her mind to new ideas and perspectives and is always actively engaged in every discussion with her peers in class trying to soak up as much knowledge and learning as possible.”

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!
Learn more about Jill Grover by reading her Inver Hills News story:

New Faculty Spotlight: Jill Grover

Jill Grover, MSW, LISW

More about Mariana…

Mariana is originally from Maracaibo, Venezuela’s second largest city with a metropolitan population approaching 5.3 million people. She graduated from Our Lady of Fatima High School, Class of 1994, in Maracaibo.

In October 2002 when she was 26 years old, Mariana moved to the U.S. due to the political crisis in Venezuela.

“My favorite memories of Venezuela are of my family being together,” she said. “I also used to work at the best public university in Maracaibo. I have great memories of my traditions, my customers, my close friends, Venezuela’s perfect weather, and our tropical fruits.”

Mariana misses sunsets in her birth country as well as having more opportunities to converse in Venezuelan Spanish, her native tongue. According to Commisceo Global, more than more different languages are spoken in Venezuela, including several with indigenous origins.

Mariana and her husband, Luis Rodriguez have been married 22 years. Luis works for Heraus, a medical equipment manufacturer. Mariana and Luis have two daughters, Marcela, 17, a high school senior, and Leda, 13, an 8th grader. The family has a 3-year-old cockapoo named Marley, who serves as a seizure dog.

In her free time, Mariana enjoys walking, reading, and listening to music.

“I like to read inspirational books, the Bible, and books about family and child development,” she said. “I like listening to Venezuelan ballad singers, Gaita traditional folk music from Venezuela, and Christian music.”

Mariana and her family reside in Inver Grove Heights.

Mariana family and life gallery

One word that best describes your experience at Inver Hills:


Mariana Pirela-Diaz Q & A

Mariana Pirela-Diaz
What inspired you to pursue a Transfer Pathway A.S. in Pre-Social Work?

I was inspired by the fact that throughout my life as an immigrant in the United States, a social worker has always listened to me, helped me overcome my needs, and, at the same time, guided me to have a dignified life for myself and my family.

Serving in my church and community is also an inspiration. I love to see the faces of the people when their problems or struggles in a situation are resolved, or at least they have hope.

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

I’m learning about how to cope with crisis and how to embrace diversity.

How can your experience as a teacher help you better understand the role of a social worker?

I have seen how many parents do not know how to manage specific behaviors of their children. They often do not know where to turn if they have a developmental problem.

I have seen families in economic need, families that struggle with addictions, and children who need safe spaces. I have learned how to nurture children and their families through education.

I have been able to help them by listening to their family situations and thus better understand why their children act defiantly with inappropriate behaviors. I have been able to develop strategies that families be resilient. I help children learn to control their emotions and have an excellent socio-emotional development even despite of their circumstances.

Four words that describe you as a college student:

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

I like working in case management for families and children. I also like working with families in a school setting, early childhood development and services, and family and community services.

What do you like best about attending Inver Hills?

I love the professors and how easy it is to navigate the online platform. I also appreciate the diversity and the community.

What person has influenced your life the most and why?

My mom, Niza Yrama Diaz Pirela, is the person who most influenced me because I always saw her help others at all times. I always saw her helping people since I was tiny—she never said no to anyone, and she permanently extended her help unconditionally.

Where do you hope to find yourself in 20 years?

In 20 years, I will be 68 years old; I hope to be in good health and continue to serve or help families in the community.

Mariana Pirela-Diaz 12 Answers

  1. Favorite sport or physical activity: Walking, CrossFit
  2. Place you would most like to visit: Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
  3. The most exciting thing you’ve ever done: Preach in my church
  4. Three things you would do if you won a $1 billion lottery: 1) Invest 2) Pay for my house 3) Give to the needs of my family members
  5. Best book or movie you’ve read or seen lately: Harriet
  6. Time period (past or future) you would explore if you could time travel: I would love to go back to 1963 to explore the assassination of Kennedy
  7. One thing you most want to accomplish in your life: Overcome  fears
  8. Your national bird if you were your own country: Troupial
  9. Dream occupation: Social worker
  10. The person you would most like to meet: Volodymyr Zelenskyy
  11. A skill you would most like to learn and master: Knit, play a musical  instrument
  12. Most important issue or problem facing humankind: Poverty
Learn more about the Pre-Social Work program at Inver Hills by contacting:

Inver Hills Community College
Virtual Visit

¹ SOURCE: NASW Social Work Month

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 $23.81/hour.


Median: $29.88/hour
High: $38.18/hour

Seven-county Twin Cities metro

Median: $30.03/hour
High: $38.62/hour


In Minnesota, there are 3,110 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 (March 7, 2023)

Inver Hills News stories during Social Work Month 2023

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Izzy Sutliff

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Morgan Marvin

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