Bonnie Jenkins came to Albany Law School to learn how to think like a lawyer.
The training she received at Albany Law honed her ability to analyze problems rationally, appreciate the merits of an opponent’s position, find common ground, and dig deeply into the research for creative solutions, all of which proved pivotal in preparing her for a career as an Ambassador and expert in weapons of mass destruction nonproliferation, disarmament and threat reduction.
For the past seven years, Jenkins, Class of 1988, has served as President Barack Obama’s Ambassador, Special Envoy and Coordinator for Threat Reduction Programs in the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation. In that role, she coordinates chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological security, works closely with international partners in fostering global security, serves as the U.S. Representative to the Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction and is engaged in the Global Health Security Agenda, a multi-sectoral initiative dedicated to reducing the global threat of infectious disease.
While Jenkins has made her career, and mark, in areas of international law, when she attended Albany Law School in the mid-1980s there was only one course on the subject, and not yet knowing the area of law she was interested in, she did not enroll in that course. Rather, she focused on her aim in enrolling in the first place — learning to think like and analyze like a lawyer.
She was awarded a fellowship at the U.S. Department of Defense, and that was the start of an eye-opening career in the federal government and in combatting weapons of mass destruction proliferation.
“I knew I wanted to work in government and that goal has remained to this day. Beyond that, I wanted to understand do legal research, learn about the law, and find legal solutions to legal problems,” Jenkins said. “Albany Law School definitely prepared me.”
Jenkins was hardly the typical law student or, for that matter, the typical law school graduate. Her journey though Albany began in the Bronx when the restless child of a store manager and daycare worker was taught the value of education and, at an early age, fell in love with learning.
That passion has resulted in a bachelor’s degree from Amherst College (psychology and black studies), a J.D. from Albany Law School, a master’s degree from the University at Albany (public administration), an LL.M. from Georgetown University Law Center, and a Ph.D. in international relations from the University of Virginia. Jenkins earned all but the bachelor’s degree while simultaneously serving as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve.
Along the way, Jenkins was a fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, attended the Hague Academy for International Law, taught as an adjunct professor at Georgetown, served as counsel to the 9-11 Commission, taught arms control at Stanford University, did a summer internship with the RAND Corporation on middle east weapons of mass destruction, and held various positions in government.
Jenkins was attracted to Albany for a number of reasons, including an impressive bar passage rate. She had gone to a small, private high school (Spence School) and a small, private college (Amherst), wanted to go to a small school in a capital city, and was able to simultaneously work on her law and master’s degrees. Albany Law School offered a financial package that made “everything come together.” When she left Albany, Jenkins, unlike others in her class, went to Washington, D.C. to work for the federal government. She had been awarded a fellowship at the U.S. Department of Defense, and that was the start of an eye-opening career in the federal government and in combatting weapons of mass destruction proliferation.
“I have learned it is possible for nations that do not necessarily get along on a lot of issues to find grounds of mutual interest,” Jenkins said. “It is not always easy, but there are ways countries can work on common goals. It just takes a lot of openness, basic trust, and a commitment to finding solutions to global problems.”
Jenkins approaches life with a Yogi Berra-ish “when you come to a fork in the road, take it” attitude.
“A lot of my footsteps were not planned,” Jenkins said. “My advice: Keep your eyes open for opportunities. Follow your passion, and see the bigger picture. There are lots of ways to use a law degree.”
Read about Bonnie Jenkins ’88 and other distinguished graduates in the forthcoming
Albany Law Magazine (Summer 2016).