Fearless Ambassador Ensures National Security
Issue   |   Mon, 11/12/2012 - 21:11

A retired Naval Reserve officer, an expert on nuclear arms and the Department of State’s Coordinator for Threat Reduction Programs, there is no doubt that Bonnie D. Jenkins has played — and continues to play — a significant role in maintaining the security of our nation. However, her path to her current role was one of exploration and excitement, well-suited for her well-rounded and fearless nature — and her appetite for new experiences has not ceased yet.

An Energetic Childhood

The energetic third child of a daycare worker and a store manager, Bonnie Jenkins was born in Queens, New York and grew up in the Bronx. She described herself as a sports-loving child who was “always running around and getting dirty.”

“I used to play a lot of basketball, and I played squash and … volleyball, and I did track and field,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins went to Spence School for high school, which is a private all-girls institution in New York. When it came time to choose a college, she thought Amherst seemed like the perfect next step. Jenkins had visited the College earlier and fallen in love with it. It was small, like her high school, but with everything she needed to figure out her interests.

“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do yet, so it gave me an opportunity to stretch my arms out and try something new,” Jenkins said.

A Talented Multitasker

Certainly, there can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that Jenkins made use of these opportunities. She thrived at Amherst, quickly carving out niches for herself in various aspects of campus life. She did sports, was the first black woman to head the Black Students Union, wrote articles for The Student, participated in numerous search committees, ran track and field and played basketball. She worked campus jobs during a lot of her senior year. Meanwhile, she double majored in black studies and psychology — the former because she wanted to learn more about the history of African-Americans in America, and the latter because she wanted to study why people thought and behaved in the ways that they did.

And, of course, she had fun — lots of it. Jenkins loved Amherst, and the culmination of all her experiences there made her extremely happy.

“I could go on forever,” Jenkins said, when asked about fond memories she had at Amherst.

It was the little things — playing loud music outside of Val, studying at Frost, watching soap operas together. Some weekends, she and her friends would go to parties in Smith; other nights, they would throw their own.

“We used to have amazing parties at Charles Drew. Everybody used to come to our parties from the Five College area,” Jenkins said.

She offered some advice for current students that is based off of her personal experiences and the way she balanced her academic and social.

“Definitely take advantage of the educational experience and the quality of the professors who are there … It really pays off,” Jenkins said, emphasizing the importance of using Amherst’s educational resources to better enable oneself to pursue goals after graduation.

“But also enjoy the fact that … you’re [at] a point in your life that you’re not going to be at afterwards … and really, really enjoy [Amherst],” Jenkins said, emphasizing that college is a transitional period of one’s life, and one should work hard but also enjoy the “relationships that you make, the friends that you make and the fun things that you can do.”

Finding Her Calling

However, although Jenkins had explored a wide range of her interests at Amherst, she still wasn’t sure what she wanted to do after graduation. She was a paralegal for a while before deciding to go to law school. She received a joint degree from Albany Law School and a master’s degree in public administration from the State University of New York at Albany. There, she met her good friend Veronica Hummel, who had attended the Univ. of Massachusetts. They are still close friends, and Hummel has many fond and endearing memories of their time as roommates at Albany.

“She rises at the crack of dawn, which as roommates in law school wasn’t that endearing,” Hummel said.

Hummel also had much to say about Jenkins’ intellectual spirit.

“She [has] a ravenous appetite for learning and experiences, a constellation of circumstances that has resulted in her numerous impressive and academic and professional titles. In addition, Bonnie is intellectually, emotionally, and physically fearless,” Hummel said.

As Jenkins had always wanted to work in Washington, she applied for an internship at the Department of Defense. She got the internship and was in the program called the Presidential Management Internship Program for two years. One of her rotations during that internship was at the Office of the Secretary of Defense in the Pentagon, where she was working with a lawyer on treaties dealing with chemical, neutral and biological weapons.

“Because of a meeting I went to, I got so interested that I decided right there and then that I was going to do that,” Jenkins said.

It may have been a spontaneous decision, but Jenkins had the determination and brainpower to make it come to life. Once again, she went back to school, receiving her master’s degree in Public International Law at Georgetown. She then decided she wanted to get her Ph.D., so she quit her job and went to the Univ. of Virginia while working part-time at the state department. For her Ph.D. dissertation, she obtained a fellowship to write her dissertation at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard Univ. She wanted to write her dissertation on the topic that had triggered her interest at the Pentagon, and the Belfer Center had many experts in this area.

Jenkins finished her Ph.D., although she took a break for a year and a half to work on the 9/11 Commission, which she thought was interesting and very rewarding.

“We were basically going to tell the story of 9/11. We couldn’t mess it up,” Jenkins said, explaining the importance and pressure of their task.

Families of the victims of 9/11 would read, so writing a bi-partisan report with good recommendations was crucial. Jenkins was proud of the fact that, unlike any congressional report, it was sold in bookstores and “bought like a regular novel.”

“There’s nothing like doing a job and having people care about what you have to say,” Jenkins said.

She then worked at the Ford Foundation for about three years. There, she used her grant-making responsibilities to strengthen public engagement in U.S. foreign and security policy debate and formulation, promoting support for multilateralism, the peaceful resolution of disputes and the international rule of law.

During that time, Jenkins was also in the U.S. naval reserves as a Direct Commission Officer. She would end up doing it for 22 years ending in 2008, and enjoyed it greatly.

“I loved being on the ships … it was always a good experience,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins was called to go on active duty for about a year down in Central Command in Tampa at one point, and she has received numerous awards in her time as an officer in the U.S. naval reserves.
After going back to the Ford Foundation, she received a call from a very important person.

“I got a call from…Senator Clinton about coming into the administration at the State Department,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins was hired as the Department of State’s Coordinator for Threat Reduction Programs and has been working there ever since.

A Global LIfe

Currently, Jenkins’ job as Department of State’s Coordinator for Threat Reduction Programs entails meeting with a lot of officials overseas and promoting programs that reduce Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction (WMD) proliferation and the chance of WMD terrorism. In addition, she is the U.S. Representative to the G8 Global Partnership Against the Spread of WMD, and the state department’s representative for the Nuclear Security Summit.

Some of Jenkins’ responsibilities include coordinating the Department of State Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) programs. She also engages in outreach efforts and regularly briefs United States Combatant Commands about WMD programs in their Area of Responsibilities, works closely with relevant international organizations and multilateral initiatives and works closely with NGOs engaged in CTR-related activities.

“Fortunately for all of us, she is committed to [making] the world a safer place,” Hummel said.

Personally, Jenkins loves that her job entails constantly working with people from other countries.

“I was at a lunch today, and on one side of me was the ambassador from Iraq and on the other side was an ambassador from Libya and in front of me was an ambassador from Poland and to his side was an ambassador to Ukraine. I like being engaged in these multilateral, multinational types of settings,” Jenkins said.

In fact, Jenkins’ job requires so much travel that “it doesn’t even make sense to try to get a place in Washington D.C.” She has a place in Westchester, New York, but lives with her sister in Woodbridge, Virginia because she works at the Main State Department in D.C.

Following Her Passions
Although Jenkins loves her job, it is clear that her love for exploration that was so apparent at Amherst has never ceased. She is interested in expanding her knowledge about soft security, and may want to move on to something else in the future. Jenkins has always had the bravery to pursue her passions, and attributes part of it to Amherst, which she speaks about with a sense of love and pride.

“There was a freedom that I loved there … not just in the courses I selected, but in the lifestyle — a structured freedom, of course. It fits very well with who I am. I always look at Amherst like my springboard; it just sets things a certain way in my life. That kind of freedom that I had, I followed it,” Jenkins said.