Nelnet Diversified Services IT Director Tod Fenner began his military career 36 years ago when he joined the North Dakota National Guard. What started as a way to pay for college soon turned into a lifelong career and passion. The valuable friendships and constant challenges pushed Tod to continue to reach higher in all aspects of his life.

On Nov. 4, 2023, Fenner’s hard work was rewarded as he assumed command of the Colorado Army National Guard’s Land Component as Brigadier General. He is now responsible for the management of over 3,000 soldiers and nine major subordinate commands.

Previously, Fenner served as the Deputy Commander for the Colorado Army National Guard and was responsible for the training and readiness of Joint Force Headquarters-Colorado, the High-Altitude Army Aviation Training Site, and the Recruiting and Retention Battalion. He also served as the Army Director for the Joint Diversity and Inclusion working group.

Fenner’s Lessons Learned

Fenner shared his perspective on his promotion, leading in life and work, his work/life balance, and lessons learned over the years.

  • Leading in Life & Work. Leadership and learning have been focal points throughout Fenner’s career, both in technology and the military. He expressed the value of understanding the person underneath the uniform before he makes decisions about how best to lead them. The chance to set direction and give opportunities for growth and development has motivated him to continue to grow himself in leadership roles.
  • Work/Life Balance. Maintaining a healthy balance between his role in the military, his position at Nelnet, and his personal life has not always come easy. Instead of focusing on balance, Fenner said he invests in work/life effectiveness. He strives to do the things that make an impact and communicates clear expectations to others around him in all aspects of his life and career.
  • Lessons Learned. When asked about lessons he has learned throughout his long and decorated career, Fenner noted that his curious nature and love of learning have guided him to success. He goes out of his way to learn not only about the people he leads, but also about best practices, organizations, units, missions, and more. He said it’s important to always be curious and to seek to understand before being understood.

Fenner’s Impact at Nelnet

In addition to Fenner’s involvement in the military, he has worked at Nelnet for 25 years. His expertise and leadership are valuable in his current role as an IT Director specializing in Federal System Modernization and Architecture.

“We’ve been fortunate to have Tod’s knowledge and expertise in a key role for us here at Nelnet Diversified Services,” said Fenner’s manager and Chief Information Officer John Turner. “We value his technical capability and leadership, but also his aptitude for understanding and working with people from diverse backgrounds. His life experience has translated well to motivating and developing the people on his team, as well as leading large, complex initiatives during his career here at Nelnet. His reports, peers, and our executive leadership team all have great respect for Tod.”

How Nelnet Supports Military and Veterans

As Fenner pointed out, “Nelnet has actively supported my service for 25 years. Never have I felt guilty or bad about leaving for training or an exercise or deployment at Nelnet because it’s always been: ‘You go take care of that job, we’ll take care of this job, and we’ll be looking forward to when you get back.’”

In addition to providing a fully supportive atmosphere for active-duty soldiers to focus on their military duties, another way Nelnet supports veterans is through NelVets—one of 10 associate resource groups (ARGs) available to Nelnet associates through Better Together, Nelnet’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion program. These associate-led groups provide opportunities for associates who are interested to meet others with the same commonalities, but also support others through allyship. NelVets’ purpose is to support the men and women of Nelnet who have served or are serving our country—but also to serve the needs of our communities.

In addition to being a Nelnet Business Services Finance and Accounting Intern, Brianna Lewis is a NelVet member, an Air Force veteran, and the spouse of an Air National Guard member. In speaking about NelVets, she noted, “I think that it’s important to have that camaraderie that we had being in the military that companies might not have so you can share that experience with each other.”

According to Nelnet IT Infrastructure Architect, retired Army veteran, and NelVet board member Ken Willey, “The NelVets ARG is actually a really good example of supporting veterans, and I think these groups are important because they create a way for people to gather together and understand what the value of other veterans being in the organization is.”

They create a way for people to gather together and understand what the value of other veterans being in the organization is.

Ken Willey

Nelnet IT Infrastructure Architect

What Veterans Bring to the Civilian Workplace

Fenner emphasized, “I think hiring a veteran gives you the opportunity to hire somebody who’s trained, they’re disciplined, they’ve usually worked through adversity, and they’re typically loyal.”

Lewis pointed out that veterans bring time management and a hard work ethic to the civilian workplace.

“Diversity, equity, and inclusion were part of the job. I mean, I met people from all walks of life, and that has benefited me greatly in the workforce,” added NelVet member Darien Dierkes, who is also a Nelnet Business Services Scrum Master and US Navy veteran.

Active Reservist and Nelnet IT Software Engineer Troy Low emphasized, “I’ve never worked at another organization that is better at preparing people for leadership than the military.”


I’ve never worked at another organization that is better at preparing people for leadership than the military.

Troy Low

Active Reservist and Nelnet IT Software Engineer

Willey noted, “There’s an unflappability that comes with military service. I think veterans, myself in particular, have a tendency to look back on stories and the things that we’ve been through and say, ‘You know, this isn’t really that bad.’”

Attracting Additional Veterans to Nelnet

As Fenner pointed out, “I got involved with the NelVets ARG, really as an opportunity to connect with other veterans and share stories and camaraderie. But also Nelnet’s a great place for them to work. So we’re trying to build a connection between Nelnet and the community to help us attract and hire veterans and active service members.”

Nelnet’s executive leadership team also hopes NelVets’ outreach will help the organization attract more associates who are veterans. As Nelnet CEO Jeff Noordhoek stated, “We currently employ over 250 self-identified veterans, and we’re always looking to add more to our team. Veterans bring important attributes to their work at Nelnet, including a mission-focused approach; integrity; adaptability; leadership; experience working in diverse teams; and so much more. We’re lucky to have so many at Nelnet.”

That’s true any day, but as Fenner is recognized at one of the highest levels for his military service, Nelnet is particularly grateful for his contributions both to the organization and to his country.


Susie McCormick

Senior Corporate Communications Writer