She’s best known for playing the quirky forensic scientist, Abby Sciuto, on the hit CBS show “NCIS,” but before Pauley Perrette was one of the biggest stars on television, she was a student at Valdosta State University.
Now, this #VStateGrad has established a scholarship at her alma mater for women studying criminal justice in honor of her character Abby, who just ended a 15-season run on “NCIS.”
We caught up with Pauley about her time at VSU and why she wanted to establish the Pauley Perrette Scholarship.
Q1: What were some of the highlights from your time at VSU? What do you remember, and what did you like about your time at VSU?
A: You know, I just went straight in, and all I did was study and study and study. I wanted to make straight As. When I first rolled in there, I was 18, and then I just got really serious, and I loved school. I loved learning. I have such a love of higher education. It’s so much different, and I try to tell young people this. When you’re in high school, it’s like illegal not to be there, you know. When you’re in college, I realized that this is for me. I’m doing this by choice. I’m doing this for me.
All I did was study. I was cum laude. I got some kind of outstanding senior (award) in sociology. I had some really great relationships with my professors, mainly Chet Ballard. He was my sociology professor, and I got to go on some excursions with him. And also Dr. Zug Standing Bear. I remember I loved Standing Bear. He had this forensics class that was notorious. (People would say), “You’re going to fail it. He’ll fail you.” And that was such a fantastic challenge for me. I was like, “Oh yeah?” So, I worked hard and put everything into it, and I got an A. That was like a real feather in my cap. I was like “I got an A in forensics.”
Q2: When you graduated, what were your original plans? What did you want to do?
A: I wanted to finish my master’s degree. I went back to Roswell, Georgia, where I went to high school, and I got a Governor’s Honors scholarship to go begin a master’s program, and that’s what I was doing. Then, I don’t know, I just suddenly ended up moving to New York. I was planning on finishing my master’s degree at John Jay School of Criminal Science, but then I accidentally became an actress.
But I wanted to be a crime fighter. I wanted to be a cop or work for the FBI. That’s what I thought I would be doing right now.
Q3: How do you feel like your time at VSU benefited you in your role as Abby?
A: I think (there was) just a pure dedication to excellence that I put on myself. I would memorize my textbooks and memorize my notes, and I would rewrite them in spiral notebooks over and over again to the point where, at one point — which was horrifying, now it’s funny — I knew everything on one of my big exams. I knew everything verbatim, word-for-word, because I studied so hard that I even was accused of cheating. I was like, “No.” (My teacher was) literally picking up my stuff and flipping papers over to make sure I didn’t have notes anywhere, but I didn’t. It was all in my head.
Being that diligent about my studies when I was there is exactly how I’m able to play Abby and every other role, but especially Abby because Abby is such a difficult role with all of the science terminology. I took the exact same route as far as learning my lines. I take my script. I take a spiral notebook. I write it over and over again in my spiral notebook, and by the time I get on set, I know it all. It’s exactly what I did in college.
Q4: You’ve talked a lot in interviews about how girls everywhere look up to and aspire to be Abby. How does it feel to be a role model for girls who want to study criminal justice and forensic science?
A: It’s been amazing and overwhelming, and this started very early on, since the inception of Abby. Abby’s the role model not me, but just the fact that a fictional television character has inspired young women around the world. For 16 years, Abby has raised these young girls, and now they have fully completed their degrees in forensic science and in science, technology, engineering, and math, and they’re working in these fields because of the inspiration of a fictional television character. That is just outstanding.
Q5: What motivated you to establish a scholarship at VSU?
A: (It was) when I knew that I was leaving (‘NCIS’), and I’m so respectful to the fans and I care about them a lot. A lot of (them), especially these young women, their whole lives are about Abby. They walk like her, they talk like her, they dress like her. They do whatever she does. It was not lost on me that this was going be a huge blow. So, I was talking to an executive at CBS, a woman who I really look up to, and I was talking to her on the phone, and actually she thought of (the scholarship). Because I said, “I want Abby to live on forever,” and we were also talking about how she’s inspired young girls, and in that conversation thought, “Wow, that makes Abby immortal.” Because if young people via this scholarship actually go and become more little Abbys, then she literally does live forever and so does her influence, and in a real-life way. It was so exciting. I actually called you guys right when I got off that phone conversation. I was so excited. I was like, “This is the best idea ever.” So, I thought it made a lot of sense to establish a scholarship at my school that I went to and then also to the school (John Jay School of Criminal Science) that I never got to go to.
I got an excellent education at Valdosta State, and I encourage young people all the time … if they don’t understand why higher education is so important, it’s not only the information that you get and what you learn. It’s also the process of accomplishment — of starting something, dedicating yourself to it, and finishing it.
Q6: Do you have any other advice for VSU students who want to pursue a career in criminal justice with this scholarship?
A: Never, ever let it be lost on you what a privilege getting an education is. Take advantage of it. Work hard. Learn everything you can. Dedicate yourself to it.
Read the full story about the Pauley Perrette Scholarship here.