Veteran & Military Spouse Entrepreneur Spotlight: Maria McConville

Maria didn’t set out to join the Army.

It just sort of happened.

Maria is originally from Rocky River, Ohio, a suburb west of Cleveland along the coast of Lake Erie. She grew up the second oldest of six and when it came time to go to college, she pursued an education in nutrition at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Although she was fortunate her parents were able to pay for her college education, she needed to complete a dietetic internship to become a registered dietitian. She found a suitable internship with the Army where she could avoid taking any loans. While she didn’t know anything about military life, and wasn’t aware of any military service in her family, the opportunity seemed too good to pass up.

Maria had grown up going on family camping trips, sharing a big, green pop-up tent with three of her sisters, and figured Army life couldn’t be that much different (in retrospect, Maria admits she was “just a little wrong about that”). She went to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, TX for a year to complete the internship and shortly thereafter passed the exam to become a registered dietitian. After the internship, the Army stationed Maria at Fort Ord in Monterey, California. As a Lieutenant and Chief of Clinical Dietetics at the post hospital, she worked with service members and their families to improve their health through better nutrition and fitness.

Maria McConville
Maria McConville in uniform.

Maria was only a month into her assignment at Fort Ord when she met her future husband, helicopter pilot and future Army Chief of Staff then-Captain James C. McConville. They dated, and within a year planned to marry during Jim’s next transition between assignments. As her posting to Fort Ord drew to a close, her active-duty obligation to the Army did as well.

Military Spouse Life

Maria had the option to stay in the Army, and take her next assignment in Germany, which sounded exciting. Although she relished the opportunity to live overseas, she had to choose between making her new marriage work from an ocean away, or accompanying her new husband to his next duty station in Lower Alabama as a military spouse. Maria felt she could successfully pursue her career outside the Army and was soon organizing their move to Fort Rucker, Alabama. Little did she know it would be only the first of 22 moves she would make in support of her Army husband’s career.

Unfortunately, finding work as a dietitian wasn’t as easy as she’d hoped. She struggled to find work in her field in Alabama, and the job-hunting experience often drove her to tears. Maria eventually took a job waitressing at a Mexican restaurant, an experience she describes as humbling. And when she did find work at other duty stations, she worked only in entry-level or part-time positions knowing they could get orders to move any day. Consequently, job promotions were out of the question.

She has three children, two sons and a daughter. When stationed in Hawaii, Maria lived on post for the first time, and enjoyed the built-in support so much she tried to live on post at every duty station afterward. She credits living on-post as a huge positive to her military spouse experience, making it easier to draw on a support system. When you’re effectively a single parent for long stretches of the year, having that community of people was critical. It ensured there were other children for her kids to play with, other parents to lean on in an emergency, and just a network of people she could bond with that understood what she was going through.

In 2007, with one child in college and two in high school, Maria went back to school for her master’s degree. This was a difficult conversation with her husband, who was supporting the “Surge” in Iraq and conflicts in Afghanistan. He worried about Maria overcommitting herself while raising the children. Maria persevered and, with a superhuman effort unique to military spouses, found a way to balance raising three kids, getting her masters, and juggling Army functions as a “supportive military spouse” during her husband’s 15-month deployment.

Two weeks before her husband returned from Afghanistan, Maria graduated with honors.

Entrepreneurial Spirit

In 2013, the company she was working for merged with another company, and Maria found her department eliminated in the process. She found work as an independent contractor in nutrition consulting for a corporate wellness company, and realized that as an independent contractor, she was free to also work with other companies.

However, as a contractor, she had to pay out of her own pocket to keep up her certifications and continuing education for her work as a dietitian, personal trainer, and health and wellness coach. The expenses added up quickly because each state licensure was independent, and as a military spouse, she was moving states every few years. This led to some hard choices about which states she should maintain her licenses. In 2015, she formed her first LLC to take advantage of tax write offs for these major expenses and found herself exploring a more entrepreneurial side of the wellness business. She had three major corporate clients and took on the occasional individual client as well. She even self-published a workbook she created for use with individual clients.

Despite her outward success, Maria laments how challenging this early period of entrepreneurship was for her. Every success and lesson were hard-won through a trial-and-error process. She didn’t know about the entrepreneurial networks that IVMF might have provided for a first-time entrepreneur in her position. The closest thing she had was an online group called Nutrition Entrepreneurs. She spent a fair bit of money hiring coaches from that group, trying to get up to speed, unaware of any resources available or organizations committed to helping military spouses with their professional careers.

When the COVID-19 pandemic broke in 2020, corporate worksite wellness came to a screeching halt, forcing Maria to pivot her career yet again. She joined the Consortium of Health and Military Performance as a Senior Nutrition Health Educator where she continues to work part-time. In this capacity, she speaks to the connectivity of various domains of wellness, and how physical wellness is linked to emotional, vocational, and spiritual wellness. Also, how to empower oneself to take charge of personal wellness through energy management, purposeful pursuits, and authentic living, a journey Maria navigated through her years as an Army spouse—especially as her husband rose through the ranks becoming a general officer.

Maria and family
Maria with family

Special Advisor to The IVMF

Maria first heard about IVMF in 2018 at the Association of the United States Army. Maria bumped into a friend working with IVMF at the conference, who asked Maria to sit on a panel for IVMF’s IGNITE. She was floored there was an entire day-long conference built around military spouse entrepreneurs just like her. Next year, she ensured she was signed up to participate in the entire day’s programming. She remembers being impressed with the breadth of resources and community support available for military spouses, and wishing she could have accessed it when she was beginning her own entrepreneurial journey.

Maria’s family went through a number of changes from launching her business to today. Her three children joined the Army as officers. Her two sons followed in their father’s footsteps to become Army aviators, and her daughter is an embedded behavioral health officer supporting Special Forces. What’s more, her husband retired from the Army last year after his own storied 42-year career. As they transitioned out of the Army and contemplated their “next chapter,” Maria remembered her IVMF experience, and reached out to see if there was a way she could get involved.

It wasn’t long before IVMF created a special advisory position for Maria to help better support, relate, and reach out to military spouses. She aims to help IVMF better tailor their programming to the military spouse experience, and identify the pain points that IVMF can help alleviate. She’s also an incredible public speaker with a wealth of knowledge about wellness and mental health, which IVMF can leverage as part of conference programming, making her a valuable addition to the team.

It's Your Turn

Maria might not have known about IVMF entrepreneurial programming when she could have used it most, but you do! Are you ready to join a network of veteran and military spouse entrepreneurs dedicated to helping you win? Check out some of IVMF’s programming for early-stage entrepreneurs, including STRIVE and Veterans in Residence (ViR) for those just starting out, and the V-WISE and Breaking Barriers in Entrepreneurship (BBiE) programs where all-women cohorts are available. Fill out an interest form or application today!