Phi Kappa Phi's Council of Students Help Bring Forum's Focus on Conversation to Life

Danny Heitman
Dec 9, 2022

Mention the word “conversation” these days, and many of us will think some pretty serious discourse is about to unfold. Various commentators point out the need for a “national conversation” on pressing social issues. Advice columns also offer tips to parents about how to have difficult conversations with their children.

Such sober exchanges of ideas are an important part of what conversation is about, but talk can have its lighter side, too. We wanted to capture that more cheerful aspect of social interaction in the cover of Forum’s autumn 2022 issue, which is devoted to conversation.

To brighten the mood, we decided to use string telephones, once a common homemade toy, as a prop for our cover illustration. Maybe, when you were a kid, you made one yourself. The concept is simple: Connect two tin cans or drinking cups with a length of string, then alternate using either end as an earpiece or mouthpiece. When held tightly, the string can carry voices over quite a distance. (If you need other any help making a string telephone, online tutorials abound.)

We made a few ourselves, using colored drinking cups that offered a nod to Phi Kappa Phi’s blue and gold colors. Past and present members of the Society’s Council of Students graciously agreed to try them out at Phi Kappa Phi’s national convention in August, and photographer Michelle Harper of Proshots Event Photography was on hand to capture it all.

Our impromptu models stayed fairly close to each other to accommodate Harper’s work, although folks who play with string telephones typically stand some distance apart. Even so, we think readers will get an idea of how fun string telephones can be.

Any one of these pictures would have made a great Forum cover. We eventually selected a photo of Alyson Tudong Nguyen (University of South Alabama) and Vivien Osei Poku (South Dakota State University) to grace the front of the magazine. When possible, we like each cover of Forum to acknowledge, however subtly, the season when the issue is published.

Simulating autumn was a small challenge with these string telephone pictures taken on a bright summer day in Orlando, Florida. Forum’s magazine design firm, STUN Design & Interactive, used the image of Nguyen and Poku as the basis for a cover illustration, reimagining the background as a park scene. The trees display an ever-so-slight autumn blush, and passersby on their smartphones underscore the way we do much of our talking.

But Nguyen and Poku look like they’re having more fun with their string telephones. We hope Forum’s autumn 2022 cover  gets members talking.  That is, after all, what good conversation is about.