Florida Lions Eye Bank
Most career paths have twists and turns with stops at various locations along the way. Elizabeth Fout-Caraza’s is unique in that her entire professional life (22 years) has been spent at the same place – Florida Lions Eye Bank (FLEB).
Elizabeth’s very first job after graduating from the University of Florida was as a recovery technician, obtaining corneal tissue from donors. She thought the position was a temporary stop en route to medical school, but as she learned different aspects of eye banking, she found her passion for the administrative side of the profession and went back to school for her master’s in healthcare administration. She earned her degree while juggling the competing challenges of working full time, going to school full time, and having her first child.
Growing up, Elizabeth was always interested in science, particularly space. As she got older, a human anatomy class in high school sparked an interest in the medical aspect of science. She says her parents were supportive of her interests, encouraging her to set lofty goals and not limit her dreams. “They always told me that anything a man could do; a woman could do.”
After first interviewing at FLEB, Elizabeth met her parents for dinner. She excitedly told them about the position, and they laughed, recalling fishing trips she took with her father as a child where she’d end up dissecting the fish and had a special fascination with their eyes. What they thought was strange then, made perfect sense now!
One reason Elizabeth continued working at FLEB was the mentorship of Mary Anne Taylor, the eye bank’s Executive Director for 21 years before retiring. “Mary Anne pushed me to find my passion and my voice,” Elizabeth said. “She gave me confidence, encouraged me to speak up, and introduced me to people in the field.”
Elizabeth is thankful that she hasn’t faced overt sexism during her career, and she credits that to the strides made by the women like Mary Anne in the generation before her. However, she notes that, “In a room with more men than women, you have to be more assertive to have your voice heard. You have to get comfortable stepping out of your comfort zone – you can’t sit back and wait to be asked.”
Hopeful about the future of women in STEM, Elizabeth is encouraged seeing all the opportunities and options her daughter has that she never had as a child. She cites a Girls in STEM club at school, volunteer programs, and internships as examples. Her daughter has interests in science, and she encourages her and other young women to explore all the possibilities science has to offer. “There are so many different avenues – don’t be discouraged if what you thought you wanted to pursue doesn’t work out. I didn’t even know what eye banking was, and I know if I had gone to medical school, I wouldn’t be nearly as happy with my job as I am now.”