St. Ambrose University celebrated success of six alumni on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023, with its Alumni Awards.

Every year, the university’s three colleges recognize a Distinguished Alumnus and an Emerging Leader. These Ambrosians serve as extraordinary examples of what one can do with an SAU education and how we can all bring Ambrosian qualities beyond the campus and into our communities, according to a Friday college release.

Those honored Oct. 19 were (L-R): Mara Downing ’88 – College of Business Distinguished Alumni Award; Katie Powers ’07, ’08 – College of Health and Human Services Distinguished Alumni Award; Catherine Dittmer ’18 – College of Business Emerging Leader Award; Kristen Berry ’07 College of Arts and Sciences Emerging Leader Award; Molly Gabaldo ’14 College of Health and Human Services Emerging Leader Award. (Not pictured: Rob Philibert ’83, College of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Alumni Award)


  • Kristin Berry ’07, College of Arts and Sciences

Berry earned her bachelor’s degree in public relations and marketing communications from St. Ambrose University in 2007. Berry says St. Ambrose provided her with the tools to enhance her internal drive, allowing her to go further and faster in her career.

Kristin Berry, president of Total Solutions, was one of six St. Ambrose alums honored on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023.

With the help of the Career Center, she enhanced her skills, gained experience and landed her dream internship as an events intern at the Quad Cities Chamber. That internship was the first step in an impressive career with the Chamber that included six different roles including interim CEO and chief strategy officer. She also played an integral role in merging the three local chambers into one regional organization.

Today, Berry uses her talents in a new way that still allows her to help small businesses succeed as president of Total Solutions. She continues to serve the community as a volunteer leader for EveryChild, Renew Moline, and others.

  • Catherine Dittmer ’18, College of Business

Dittmer earned her bachelor’s degree in finance from St. Ambrose in 2018. With the help and support of SAU faculty, Dittmer received an offer at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.

“I thought I would never get a job there because I was not smart enough, old enough and did not come from a wealthy background,” Dittmer said.

Five years later, she has her dream job as a wealth management advisor at Merill Lynch; a job that may not have been if it wasn’t for her professors recognizing her skill and encouraging her to take a leap of faith.

Dittmer uses those skills to provide pro bono financial education activities for people across many demographics and serve in a number of volunteer capacities. In particular, she shares her recent battle with an aggressive form of blood cancer to inspire others to be determined, resilient and intentional during difficult times.

  • Molly Gabaldo ’14, College of Health and Human Services

Gabaldo earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from SAU in 2014. St. Ambrose’s focus on social justice was a pillar of Gabaldo’s collegiate education. Her experiences with non-profits, study abroad, service trips, and faith communities instilled in her a strong belief that healthcare is a basic right centered in justice. That theme has remained center stage as her career in nursing evolved.

The COVID pandemic provided Gabaldo with a unique opportunity that resulted in her current position as a project manager for the Chicago Department of Public Health, after receiving her Doctorate of Nursing in Public Health from Rush College of Nursing.

She explains that emergency preparedness is not where she envisioned her future, but Gabaldo recognizes that a focus on health equity and justice for communities is just as pertinent in preparing for and responding to emergencies as anywhere else in public health.


  • Dr. Rob Philibert ’83, College of Arts and Sciences

Philibert earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from St. Ambrose University in 1983. Philibert went on to receive his MD and PhD from the University of Iowa where he is a professor of psychiatry with joint appointments in neuroscience, molecular medicine, and biomedical engineering.

Rob Philbert

Philibert is the founder of two biotech companies. The first company, Cardio Diagnostics Inc, is listed on NASDAQ and introduced the world’s first artificial intelligence guided genetic-epigenetic test for any disorder. He is also the founder and CEO of Behavioral Diagnostics and is credited with the development of cancer screenings and discovering the epigenetic signatures for cigarette and alcohol consumption.

Philibert cites the mentorship provided by Art Serianz of the Chemistry Department as being pivotal to his achievements. He describes his work as “discovering the greatest inner joy in understanding the wonders of God’s creation and the need to use that knowledge to bring more people into a fuller human existence.”

  • Mara Downing ’88, College of Business

Downing earned her bachelor’s degree in accounting from SAU in 1988. Her journey to her current position as vice president, Global Brand and Communications for John Deere has roots on the SAU campus.

Mara Downing, a 1988 SAU graduate, is vice president of global brand and communications for John Deere.

Her time under the oaks helped Downing clarify what was important personally and professionally and reaffirmed the importance of values. Mara embodies the Ambrosian value of lifelong learning and continuous curiosity. It’s that approach that has allowed her to build an impressive resume at John Deere including experience in finance, public affairs and communications. She has spearheaded strategic initiatives focused on improving operations, enriching the company culture, and promoting the brand in order to drive higher levels of business success.

Her influence can also be seen locally through her involvement with the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce, the John Deere Classic, United Way of the Quad Cities and many other organizations.

  • Katie Powers ’07, ’08 DPT, College of Health and Human Services

Powers earned her bachelor’s degree in behavioral neuroscience in 2007 and her Doctorate of Physical Therapy degree in 2008, both from SAU. Her career includes 15 years of pediatric clinical experience and 13 years of classroom experience at St. Ambrose. She began her teaching career as a guest lecturer and became a full faculty member in 2021.

Powers helped develop the Pediatric Therapeutics class and the Residency Program in Pediatric Physical Therapy at SAU.

Powers notes that she began her career with a strong foundation and support system from the St. Ambrose community and it is an honor for her now to be a part of that community as a faculty member. Her impact is not only felt in the classroom, but in the broader community as well.

Powers is a founding member of Mississippi Bend Trykes, which provides adapted tricycles to children with special healthcare needs in the QC region.