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Engineering Reasoning


This is a work of the US Government and is therefore public domain and not subject to copyright. Citations from Engineering Reasoning are used with the permission of the Foundation for Critical Thinking. Forthcoming in the Engineering Management Journal, and adapted from a paper presented at ASEE, June 2008, where it won ‘Best Conference Papers.’


The Loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia:

Portaging Leadership Lessons with a Critical Thinking Model


Robert J Niewoehner, Captain, U.S. Navy, Ph.D.

Craig E. Steidle, Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy (ret.)

U.S. Naval Academy



Business schools have long valued case studies as a tool for both broadening a student’s perspective, and provoking them to deeper consideration of complex situations. The challenge with case studies is assuring the portability of the lessons; we don’t expect students to see situations imitating those they’ve studied, hence the goal must instead be habits of mind and principles of action which the student can portage to the circumstances of their professional lives. This paper evaluates the suitability of Richard Paul’s Critical Thinking model as a template for evaluating engineering enterprise thinking habits and organizational behavior, using the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) report as a case study. With minor refinement, Paul’s model provides a powerful vocabulary for complicated case study analysis, and that familiarity with the model provides participants with both a mechanism for analysis and a means for portaging lessons to other professional situations and organizations.


In 1990, as a novice test pilot, I was privileged to attend the first flight readiness review for .....

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Elements of Thought



Intellectual Humility       Fairmindedness

Intellectual Autonomy    Confidence in Reason

Intellectual Integrity       Intellectual Empathy

Intellectual Courage      Intellectual Curiosity Intellectual Perseverance


Intellectual Traits



To develop



Clarity              Precision          Accuracy   

Significance      Relevance        Fairness

Logical             Depth               Breadth     

Concision         Suitability         Beauty


Intellectual Standards