Lecture Series

EPIC Achievement Award and Peng Nian Distinguished Lecture Series

Many kids today see failure as inherently bad, and success as beyond their reach.  EPIC (Education for Persistence and Innovation Center) is a global interdisciplinary research center at Teachers College, Columbia University, dedicated to figuring out how to turn failure into success.  We combine the insights and wisdom from cognitive science, social-cultural psychology, education, neuroscience, and media technology to study the critical role that failure plays as a catalyst for learning, innovation, leadership, and career development.

To help spread our mission that there is No Success Like Failure, EPIC has decided to create an annual EPIC Achievement Award to recognize not only individuals who experience an EPIC journey, but also who exemplify a willingness to admit and accept failure along the way. These individuals are able to use the information offered by failure to make better decisions and overcome obstacles.

The selection committee for the EPIC Achievement Award is looking for an individual who has moved from failure to failure with no loss of motivation and enthusiasm for life. The award honors this individual’s exceptional accomplishments and societal contributions of an individual who has displayed both the courage to overcome adversity, and the character to share personal stories of failure that teach and inspire others. We honor an exceptional individual’s failure-to-success journey annually by inviting him/her to Teachers College, Columbia University to deliver an hour-long distinguished lecture on the value of failing sponsored by the Peng Nian Foundation. The nomination starts in July every year and the selection is finalized on Sept 30th of the same year. The lecture and the award ceremony are usually held in March or April the following year. This award also includes a $10,000 honorarium to express our appreciation for his sharing of his failure stories to the public.   

Yu Pang Nian (余彭年) was the founder of the Peng Lin Foundation whose life story is a testament to the power of education for persistence in the face of great adversity. Born and raised in Hunan Province, China in 1923, Pang Nian overcame humble origins and horrendous adversity to become a renowned Hong Kong business tycoon and one of the world’s leading philanthropists. In 2007, Pang Nian was voted as “one of the world’s biggest philanthropists by the US Times Magazine and the same year, won the CCTV China economic figures charity award. In 2015, Mr. Yu passed away and he left a will to donate his entire estate (1.2 billion US dollars) to fund innovations in health, education, and world disaster relief. EPIC was honored to be the 1st overseas recipient of the Pang Nian foundation research fund.


Previous EPIC Award Winners

Profile Image of Dr. James Chao
Dr. James Chao
2018 EPIC Awardee

Dr. James Chao, Born and raised in a rural farming village in China, Dr. James S.C. Chao attended the National Chiao Tung University and Wusong Merchant Marine College in Shanghai, where he majored in navigation, and went on to become one of the world’s leading entrepreneurs and philanthropists. He is the founder and chairman of Foremost Group, among the world’s largest shipping and finance companies acclaimed for its use of environmentally friendly and sustainable designs and technologies. He has received numerous awards and honors, including induction into the International Maritime Hall of Fame at the United Nations. A visionary philanthropist, Dr. Chao has generously supported many educational institutions and initiatives, and has created more than 5,000 academic scholarships in China and the United States.

Profile image of Dr. Martin Chalfie
Dr. Martin Chalfie
2019 EPIC Awardee

Dr. Martin Chalfie, 2008 Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry and a University Professor at Columbia University. Dr. Chalfie received Cs for his undergraduate chemistry classes and had sold dresses, worked for Rock Concerts, hospitals, factories after college and eventually worked as a scientist. Chalfie knows better than most that failure, although disappointing, can ultimately lead to breakthroughs and success, especially in the sciences. He told the Columbia News in 2013: “If you do an experiment and it confirms your hypothesis, you’ve made a measurement. If you do the experiment and it doesn’t confirm your hypothesis, you’ve made a discovery.”

Selection Committee

Director of Selection Committee:

  • Dr. Xiaodong Lin-Siegler

Professor of Cognitive Science in Education,

Director of Education for Persistence and Education Center

Director of the Peng Lin Distinguished Lecture Series Selection 

The Selection Committee Members:

  • Dr. John Black, Cleveland E. Dodge Professor at Human Development, Teachers College
  • Dr. James E. Corter, Chairman, Department of Human Development, Teachers College
  • Dr. Stuart Firestein, Professor and Chair Emeritus, Department of Biological Science, Columbia University
  • Dr. Steve Graham, Chief Editor of the Journal of Educational Psychology and Warner Professor, School of Education, Arizona State University
  • Mrs. Suzanne Murphy, Vice President of Development, Albert Einstein College of Medicine
  • Dr. Robert Siegler, Jacob H. Schiff Foundations Professor of Psychology, Human Development, Teachers College
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