Bonnie Jenkins ’78 Speaks with International Relations Class

On Friday, May 20, Spence’s Upper School International Relations class was delighted to welcome back alumna Bonnie Jenkins ’78, the U.S. Department of State’s Coordinator for Threat Reduction Programs in the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation. Dr. Jenkins attended Spence for high school, and was an avid athlete during her time here, playing sports from track and field to basketball.

After Spence, she attended Amherst College, which she found to be a perfect environment given its small size and tight-knit community. After graduating, she received a joint degree from Albany Law School and a master’s in Public Administration from SUNY at Albany. Given Dr. Jenkins’ desire to work in Washington, she applied for the Presidential Management Internship Program at the Department of Defense. The internship piqued her interest in chemical and biological weapons, ultimately leading Dr. Jenkins to pursue her master’s in Public International Law at Georgetown University and her Ph.D. in International Relations at the University of Virginia.

She has since worked as the Department of State’s Coordinator for Threat Reduction Programs. And in her current job at the Department of State, Dr. Jenkins meets with officials overseas and promotes programs that reduce weapons and materials of mass destruction. In addition, she is the U.S. Representative to the G8 Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction, and the State Department’s representative for the Nuclear Security Summit.

Many of the students in the class hope to pursue careers in international relations and in policymaking, and had the unique opportunity to ask Dr. Jenkins about her responsibilities and opinions. “We can no longer just worry about countries,” she said. “My job focuses on tracking individuals—not just who they are, but where they go.” The main goal is to prevent those with ill intent from obtaining chemical, biological or nuclear weaponry, which has now become largely an international cooperative effort. Dr. Jenkins promoted the effectiveness of multinational teamwork and long-term diplomacy as approaches to combating the global proliferation of weapons—a successful strategy she has witnessed firsthand. “Sometimes with diplomacy, you have to wait,” she remarked. “With Cuba, for example, it’s been decades in the making. And now we have a dialogue with Iran.”

When asked about her experience at Spence and how she carried it with her to a male-dominated environment, Dr. Jenkins fondly reminisced about her high school years: “Spence shaped me for the rest of my life. The all-women’s environment was perfect.” In terms of what she took away, she repeated one word: confidence. “There’s nothing like confidence. It distinguishes you.” After each student shared the topic of her term paper, which ranged from analyses of sex trafficking in Southeast Asia to criticisms of the Arab Spring, Dr. Jenkins was optimistic about the potential that Spence students still have to enact real change—just as she did and continues to do today.