SUNY Cortland graduate Wendee Wallach-Levy '70, who last summer named an asteroid after her alma mater, will discuss the process of naming a minor planet during a colloquium on Friday, Feb. 18, at the College.

Wallach-Levy will discuss "Through the Back Door: Finding Cortland in the Sky" at 1:50 p.m. in the Bowers Hall Planetarium, located off the science museum on the building's main level. Following her talk, her husband, the noted astronomer David H. Levy, will offer a presentation. Afterward, the couple will be available for a question-and-answer session.

Presented by the Physics Department and the Alumni Affairs Office, the event is free and open to the public.

On Feb. 25, 1992, astronomer Levy, and two fellow experts, Eugene and Carolyn S. Shoemaker, identified a previously undiscovered minor planet at the Palomar Observatory in San Diego County, Calif. Levy offered his wife the unique opportunity to name the celestial body after anyone or anything she desired. She chose SUNY Cortland.

"The process was a complex one, but because of my experience at Cortland as an undergraduate, I wanted to do this for my alma mater," said Wallach-Levy.

To name the discovery, she had to submit a complicated application that met with the approval of the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the official world body of astronomers. The Levys and Carolyn Shoemaker wrote the citation for the minor planet and submitted it to the IAU. In mid-March 2004, following almost a year of negotiation, Asteroid No.27776 was officially named 'Cortland.'

"You cannot buy an asteroid," Wallach-Levy said. "I wish to add that only a handful of universities are honored in this way. SUNY Cortland now has a piece of real estate that is about five miles across and which orbits the sun between Mars and Jupiter in a period of just over three years. Cortland is a small world, but just like Earth, it has sunrises and sunsets."

The IAU citation for Asteroid No. 27776 Cortland reads as follows: "Named in honor of the State University of New York (College) at Cortland. Founded in 1868, SUNY Cortland is one of the most highly regarded members of the State University of New York system. The (College) is known for its education programs; its physical education program in particular has trained thousands of teachers to have a deep and abiding enthusiasm for their profession."

Born in 1948 in New York City, Wallach-Levy, who as an undergraduate was named Wendee Wallach-Feldman, was a self-described average student who majored in physical education.

"I not only loved every bit of my four years at Cortland, but soaked up as much information for my future career as possible," she said. "You become what you're taught."

Upon graduation, Wallach-Levy obtained her master's degree from New Mexico State University. She joined the Las Cruces (N.M.) Public Schools, teaching first through ninth grade for 23 years at a school on the White Sands Missile Range, a military base. She finished her last three years of teaching at the Sierra Middle School in Las Cruces. She also coached volleyball, softball, basketball, track and cheerleaders.

"By the time I retired from 26 years of teaching, I was the intramural and athletic director at the schools where I taught," she said. "I was an instructor and trainer for first aid, CPR and water safety for the American Red Cross. What I learned at Cortland never left me throughout my career. The professors made you do every lesson plan and when you got out, you truly knew how to teach."
In 1996, Wallach-Levy retired from teaching to join the Jarnac Observatory, where she now serves as director. That year, the IAU named Asteroid No. 6485 Wendeeesther in her honor.

She and her husband were married on March 23, 1997, at the Flandrau Planetarium on the University of Arizona campus, with a lunar eclipse gracing the sky that night as well as the Hale-Bopp comet.

Her husband gained international recognition in July 1994, when the comet he discovered, with Eugene and Carolyn Schoemaker, CometShoemaker-Levy 9, collided with Jupiter, the first collision of two solar system bodies ever to be observed.

"If Wendee is any example of the kind of education Cortland provides, then Cortland is a truly amazing institution," he said.
"I had a chance to honor Cortland in a very special way, and I grabbed it," added Wallach-Levy. "Congratulations on your new piece of property and for providing a university experience I have never forgotten."