School-to-career pathways not only represent a student’s journey, but they also represent the educational program context; to understand the pathway, one must understand the geographic, political, and social conditions that led to the program’s creation. To determine the kinds of pathways advanced manufacturing (AM) programs in rural Northwest Florida community and state colleges enabled for their students, we interviewed faculty and administrators about their AM programs’ historical emergence. In this paper, we present five detailed AM program “origin stories,” using a multiple case study methodology. These origin stories allowed us to explore how rural AM postsecondary programs have evolved in organizational structure, curriculum content, employer relations, and student pathways facilitation. We gathered data to discern 1) commonalities and unique features in AM programs’ initiation impetus; 2) current AM program, faculty, and student profiles; and 3) significant AM program challenges and priorities in rural settings, such as institutional commitment to long-term economic health. In our findings, we highlight how active participation in diverse community and industry collaborations serves to establish and grow AM educational pathways tailored explicitly for the immediate community. For example, participants share innovative partnership programming and certificate development that enabled seminal two-year engineering technology and engineering technician education opportunities. We also identified that the ability of rural programs to offer instruction in advanced physical spaces requires an ongoing commitment to appropriate resources, support that is variously obtained from the institution, local employers, or some combination of stakeholders. Through our methodology and findings, we aim to contribute to a holistic understanding of how to study school-to-career pathways. This study investigates how rural AM programs can advance to achieve competitive growth.
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