By: Chris Kalani

A near-death experience can change the way people view life. For one SCV resident, a close encounter helped him discover his true calling.

This is Andrew Fuentes. He’s an after school instructor in the Saugus Union School District. He works with Black Rocket Productions, which focuses on giving elementary school students a creative outlet through a digital landscape. Students enrolled in the program create their own virtual world on CoSpaces, and are given weekly challenges per the course curriculum.

Andrew loves teaching the next generation of digital engineers, though six years ago, a freak accident nearly prevented him from finding his calling.

In March 2017, Fuentes and a friend were hiking to the Eaton Canyon waterfall when he began to slip down the muddy hillside.

He vividly recalls the few seconds that changed his life: “I was able to grab a branch… but unfortunately the branch gave out… so I continued to keep falling down the side of the mountain [before] a straight down drop for like forty feet.”

The spot Fuentes initially fell from (upper left-center). (Eaton Canyon, 7 April 2023)

Andrew was airlifted out of the canyon and into emergency surgery, and would have to learn how to walk again during his months-long recovery. But within this challenge, he found a new passion.

“When I was at home during this time, like not walking or doing much, there was a lot of virtual reality content that I would put myself in to be able to experience different worlds, since I was stuck in my room. I couldn’t really go out and experience these things, and being able to experience virtual reality in that way just really gave me a different meaning to it, and [I] could see how other people could use it that are just like maybe disabled or can’t really go outside as much.”

This revelation inspired Andrew to spread his love and knowledge of virtual reality and digital design in a classroom setting. Halfway through his first semester, he’s overjoyed with the hard work and enthusiasm his students display every week.

His excitement is only overshadowed when he reflects on his role furthering the rapidly-advancing industry.

“For the next generation, it’s gonna be really crazy, and being able to put these kids in the forefront of it is just really cool in my opinion.”

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