Pauley Perrette is opening up about the impact her NCIS character, Abby Sciuto, has had on young girls around the world.
The actress, who has played the fan favorite forensic scientist since the show began in 2003, announced last fall that she will be leaving the procedural following the conclusion of the current 15th season. During an appearance on The Talk on Tuesday, Perrette opened up about leaving the show.
“It’s been such an incredible journey that this one little fictional television character has, and it is enormous and overwhelming for young girls around the world,” said Perrette, 49.
“Over the course of 15 years, it started very early, [girls] have modeled themselves after this TV character. It made math and science not only a viable plan for them, but it made it accessible and it made it fun and it inspired these girls,” she shared. “It’s been so heartwarming, and it’s been such a real thing. These are real people, who now 16 years later have gotten their degrees in science and math all because of Abby.”
She continued: “I’ve been mourning a lot, the loss of Abby, but also what she means to these young girls.”
In order to keep Abby’s legacy alive, Perrette set up two different scholarships for women hoping to follow in her beloved character’s footsteps — one at her alma mater, Valdosta State University, and one at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.
As a parting gift, the hosts of The Talk surprised Perrette with a life-size balloon sculpture of Abby made of over 400 balloons that took 14 hours to build.
Surprise!! A life-size balloon sculpture of Pauley Perrette was just wheeled out on stage to celebrate 15 seasons of Abby Sciuto on “NCIS” #ThankYouAbby • • • #TheTalk #EverybodyTalks #pauleyperrette #abbysciuto #NCIS @ncis_cbs #thankyou #balloons #balloon #sculpture
A post shared by The Talk (@thetalkcbs) on May 1, 2018 at 1:13pm PDT
In a recent interview with CBS News, Perrette said she spends much of her free time now at home with her pets and is enjoying life out of the spotlight.
“It’s just very dehumanizing,” she said. “I hope I’m not wrong, but I think that I have earned a little bit of time to myself. Just stay home. Go to church.” (Perrette is a regular at Hollywood United Methodist.)
- Want to keep up on the latest from PEOPLE? Sign up for our daily newsletter to get our best stories of the day delivered straight to your inbox.
Perrette also revealed that she’s uninterested in pursuing a love life — “Tried it. Not for me. Not at all,” she said — and is “delighted” at her decision.
“Probably the best decision I ever made in my life was the time that it took me to go like, ‘Wait a minute. This is silly. I don’t have to have a boyfriend, or a husband, or a girlfriend, or anything, you know?’ ” she said. “I don’t need any of that. Like, I do whatever I want. I do whatever I want. And I think that is rad!”
RELATED VIDEO: Pauley Perrette Is Leaving ‘NCIS’ After 15 Seasons
Perrette announced her departure from NCIS with a statement on Twitter last October.
“It is true that I am leaving NCIS after this season,” she wrote. “It was a decision made last year. I hope everyone will love and enjoy EVERYTHING ABBY not only for the rest of this season, but for everything she has given all of us for 16 years. All the love, all the laughter, all the inspiration. I love her as much as you do.”