UCSD student makes the world his classroom


Just 21 years old, Michael Nekrasov has already traveled to more than 20 countries. This summer he will add at least three more to the tally through his participation in UCSD’s Pacific Rim Undergraduate Experiences (PRIME) program.

Founded in 2004 and funded in part by the National Science Foundation, PRIME offers international internship opportunities to undergraduates. The program’s expansion enabled 33 students to live and work in host labs at 13 Asian and Pacific Rim institutions this summer. Nekrasov developed a project, which he is currently implementing in coastal Taiwan.

“The deal is for nine weeks you go to a foreign country,” Nekrasov said. “You have to arrange a project through a UCSD mentor and a foreign professor. I’m working on different types of sensors in cameras as a way to monitor coral health. My main focus is using fluorescence imagery.”

Currently entering his third year of studies in pursuit of a double major in computer engineer and math, Nekrasov is something of a non-traditional student. Originally from Russia, he moved to Carmel Valley with his mother where he started fifth grade at Carmel Creek Elementary School. After graduating from Torrey Pines High School, he was accepted at UCSD but felt dissatisfied remaining so close to home when his friends seemed to have moved on.

He resolved the need to do more and see more by studying abroad during his sophomore year.

“When I went to class, I could see the castle up on the mountain. I could hear bagpipers,” he said of his stay in Scotland.

Partly inspired by the regrets of those in their 50s and 60s who wished they had traveled more during their youth, Nekrasov refuses to let issues like age or money prevent him from adding stamps to his passport.

“I figured that while I’m still young, even if it means paying a little more on loans … I try to get out and travel,” he said. “I realized there was an entire world other than America that I can explore.”

Brian McMahon, 21, also a resident of Carmel Valley and PRIME participant, has accompanied Nekrasov on several trips since high school and shares his friend’s passion for travel.

“I would say what I have found most impressive when traveling isn’t any one thing, but it something different for each place I’ve been,” McMahon said. “Discovering what really is the most interesting thing about a particular place is one of the most compelling things about traveling. Sometimes you find it’s something famous that you hear about all the time, but often it turns out to be some small thing that you’ll never read in a travel guide. The sense of exploring the world to find out what different places have to offer is one of the biggest draws to traveling in my mind.”

Images posted on Nekrasov’s Web site,


, document his adventures around the globe.

“Photography and travel for me are very linked,” Nekrasov said. “My camera is kind of how I touch the world. I love the ability to focus on a scene and capture a moment.”

After completing his internship in Taiwan, Nekrasov plans to spend several weeks exploring Asia, including China and Japan. In the future, he plans to add Alaska, New Zealand and Australia to his “been there, seen that” list.

Immersing himself in a variety of cultures has provided Nekrasov with insight into how countries around the world are both different and the same.

“I didn’t really know what to expect but what I learned is that every single place has its own problems but every place has something we can learn,” he said.