Laura Cabrera is a creative force of nature.
She sings Top 40 hits and covers with a band, she paints abstracts and sells them at art fairs, she teaches Zumba to adults and runs afterschool classes in music and dance for children - all while studying for her Bachelor of Liberal Arts degree in philosophy and psychology.
"I want to inspire people, create and have my passions make me a living," she says. "I make art and sell it, I make music and sell it and I teach dance and sell it."
The 28-year-old student from Lawrence began by studying criminal justice at Northern Essex Community College, thinking it would be practical. But during an internship with the Massachusetts Probation Service, she realized criminal justice wasn't her calling.
When Cabrera was touring four-year colleges, someone offered a piece of advice that stuck with her: Study what you enjoy, because you'll be naturally good at it and you'll pay attention in class. So when she arrived at UMass Lowell, she took a new path, studying philosophy and psychology part-time while working full-time on clinical drug trials for Parexel and then GE Healthcare Research.
Philosophy and psychology turned out to be practical in a different way: They gave Cabrera greater insight into her own passions and motivation, as well as more confidence. Recently, she quit her day job to pursue the arts full-time.
"If you're good at it, dedicate time to it and feel inspired, then anything is possible," she says.
Now she sings with The Buzz everywhere from Irish bars to Jewish weddings. She also sings jazzy rhythm and blues and original compositions as "Queen Laura" at El Taller, a literary café in Lawrence, and teaches regular Zumba classes. She's teaching dance at Arlington Middle School and percussion at the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence.
After Cabrera graduates, she dreams of pursuing a master's degree in education. Currently, she's enrolled in a Music Department class on musical pedagogy and a psychology class on learning and behavior, which she takes at the university's brand-new campus in downtown Haverhill.
"I have a lot of lessons I've learned through trial and error and pleasure and pain," she says. "I would love to get a teaching degree and share what I've learned with others."