Many who discovered Kirsten Vangsness from her colorfully iconic character on the series "Criminal Minds" (CBS, 2005-) may find it hard to believe that the boisterous actor was once extremely shy. Vangsness was in eighth grade when her mother persuaded her to take a drama class. Much to her own surprise, she excelled at it, helping her to become more outgoing and expressive. She would continue to act in school plays and local theater, eventually graduating from California State University, Fullerton with a degree in theater. The California native then began appearing with Los Angeles theater troupes, developing a particularly strong relationship with L.A.'s Theatre of NOTE. She would also pursue a TV and film career, making her first paid on-screen appearance in a Dr. Pepper ad. Vangsness was cast on "Criminal Minds" as iconoclastic tech genius Penelope Garcia in 2005. By the next year, she was promoted to series regular, taking home the L.A. Drama Critics Circle Natalie Schafer Award for Best Emerging Comedic Actress. She would continue to act on stage, however, winning acclaim for her performance in Neil Labute's "Fat Pig" at the Geffen Playhouse in 2007, and staging a one-woman-show entitled "Mess" in 2011. Vangsness also proved herself as a writer, publishing articles in the Los Angeles Times Magazine.