This spring break, a number of students from the Yale School of Management will be traveling abroad as part of a student-driven effort to apply business skills to service organizations throughout the world.

This Thursday, approximately 20 SOM students departed for Madagascar — the first SOM-organized trip to that country — and other student groups will spend the next two weeks at work on similar spring break trips to China, Nigeria, and Washington, D.C. Students on the trips will be performing pro bono consulting work for organizations and will receive class credit at SOM for their work, SOM spokeswoman Tabitha Wilde said.

Karin Barry SOM ’06, co-organizer of the Madagascar trip, said this particular trip is different from many student trips in the past because students are making an effort to extend their interaction with Malagasy companies beyond the two weeks that they will be working for them on location.

“Students have been working on projects for these companies for seven weeks now, since the beginning of the semester,” Barry said. “After the two weeks are up, they will come back to do a final report, which they will present to the client. Some groups have even talked about extending their contact through the semester and making it into a summer internship.”

Barry said that while the Madagascar trip is student-organized, the students involved received substantial support from SOM faculty members, particularly Dean of Students Patricia Pierce and professor Nathaniel Keohane.

“While SOM as a whole encourages these trips, I think it’s a great tribute to the school and the student body that these programs are student-initiated, student-led, and almost exclusively student-funded,” Barry said.

Pierce said that the student involvement and initiative required for these projects is what makes these trips unique.

“The trip to Madagascar is an entirely student-organized trip,” Pierce said in an e-mail. “These students are a great group and have been working hard already on their projects for Malagasy organizations.”

Karen Liu SOM ’06, co-organizer of the China trip, said student involvement in the annual spring break trip to China has allowed it to evolve with student interests. She said that with plans to visit close to 20 companies within the two-week period, the China trip is probably the most business-focused of all of SOM’s trips.

“The school has been very helpful in contacting alumni in the area, either to set up company visits or organize events where we get to meet and talk to alumni,” Liu said. “Some of the alumni events are even being funded by the school.”

Liu also said that last year former SOM Dean Jeffrey Garten happened to be in Beijing at the same time as last year’s group and met up with them. This year, SOM Dean Joel Podolny has been working directly with eight students on the trip who are currently writing business cases, she said.

Spencer Hutchins SOM ’07, who organized the Washington, D.C., trip, said he also found Podolny to be exceptionally encouraging of these spring break trips.

“The administration has encouraged us, certainly,” Hutchins said. “The dean has been great, sending letters to public figures asking them to meet with us while we’re there. He’s generally been very supportive of these trips being invented and managed by students.”

Dairo Isomura SOM ’06, co-organizer of the Madagascar trip, said that by encouraging students to participate in these trips, SOM enables them to put the skills they have learned to practical use.

Pierce, who accompanied a similar student group to Cuba five years ago and is going to Madagascar this spring, said she finds traveling abroad with students fascinating and thinks it can be just as rewarding for accompanying faculty members as it is for students.

“I am pleased to go along on the trip as an advisor and photo-taker,” Pierce said. “I hope to record lots of their good work, and of course it will be exciting for us all to see a part of the world we’ve not been to.”