Humphrey global policy fellow Dr. Bonnie Jenkins nominated to Biden administration

Jenkins was nominated to serve as undersecretary for arms control and international security affairs, and awaits confirmation from the Senate.

Bonnie Jenkins, the founder and executive director of the Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security and Conflict Transformation, speaks at a conference. Courtesy photo.

Bonnie Jenkins, the founder and executive director of the Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security and Conflict Transformation, speaks at a conference. Courtesy photo.

by Katelyn Vue, Campus Activities Reporter

Every year during middle school, Dr. Bonnie Jenkins made sure she was on the honor roll.

As a reward for making the honor roll at Jenkins’ middle school, students traveled to Washington, D.C. Those trips sparked Jenkins’ interest in working for the federal government.

Now, Jenkins is a senior fellow in global policy at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, where she hosts virtual seminars on topics like national security and arms control. Between earning several degrees — including a law degree, two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. in international relations — Jenkins has served in city, state and federal government as well as the military.

Last month, President Joe Biden nominated Jenkins to be undersecretary for arms control and international security affairs in his administration. She awaits to hear confirmation from the Senate.

“I grew up … in the south Bronx, and I didn’t come from lots of money or anything, but I was very fortunate to get assistance from scholarships to go to different schools starting in high school,” Jenkins said. “I just love to learn; I still love to learn. And I like the academic environment, so it’s been quite a ride from where I started to where I am now.”

She pursued roles in city and state government before working in the federal government in Washington in 1990. Jenkins said her federal role exposed her to international security issues, particularly in arms control, that paved a new path for her journey.

“I like new things; I like challenges, and so I seek out challenges all the time,” Jenkins said

In January, Jenkins was selected as the 2020 Arms Control Person of the Year through an online poll, with participants spanning over 65 countries, which recognized her work in diversifying foreign policy and national security and taking action steps to target institutional racism.

Jenkins is the founder and executive director of Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security and Conflict Transformation (WCAPS), a nonprofit aiming “to advance leadership and professional development for women of color in the fields of international peace, security and conflict transformation.” She launched the organization in 2017 after serving eight years in the Obama administration as the coordinator for the Department of State’s threat reduction programs.

For many years, Jenkins was often the only person of color in the room to discuss topics including weapons of mass destruction and international security.

“I didn’t see people coming up behind me. I didn’t see a generation of people who look like me coming up in this field,” Jenkins said.

WCAPS has a mentorship program, projects, working groups and a pipeline to direct organizations to seek women of color for opportunities. WCAPS also has chapters worldwide and is working to develop a chapter at the University’s Humphrey School.

“Starting my organization was something new. I never ran [a nongovernmental organization] before, so it was still taking a chance and a leap of faith,” Jenkins said. “But you have to believe in yourself, and you have to work hard at it.”

Will Stewart, customer relationship management consultant for WCAPS, said he found out about Jenkins’ nomination for President Biden’s administration through Twitter.

“She was so gracious and humble about it,” Stewart said. “That’s her personality: She didn’t make anything too big, and I know she’s going to be great in this position.”

“Bonnie is brilliant to a point where it is almost impossible. She is constantly doing six more things than you know she is because that is how much she can manage,” Maher Akremi, WCAPS project assistant, said. “But at the same time, at no point will she ever make you feel small just because she is incredible.”

Sylvia Mishra, co-chair for one of the WCAPS working groups, reached out to Jenkins over email almost four years ago and said she was surprised how quickly Jenkins replied to set up a time for coffee.

“Her inspirational story is matched with the goodness of her heart,” Mishra said. “Her championing underrepresented communities and voices is something that stands out brightly about her.”

Editor’s note: Because of an editor error, this article was published before the piece was finalized. It has since been updated and republished.