Shea credits the efforts of board members, HCC professors and others in the community with the more than $35 million in additions to the campus, phenomenal growth of HCC's endowment fund, and soaring enrollment in continuing education and work force training programs.
He might not take credit for the college's successes, but Shea "made it happen in one way or another," said Pete Low, president of the HCC Foundation.
"I guarantee he wouldn't say that. He likes to see the people around him get acknowledged," Low said. "But the direction the college has taken is due to pretty visionary thinking on his part."
Shea gives people the opportunity to develop projects before bringing them to him for review, said HCC Athletic Director Jim Brown. "He's always seeking ways to do things better and more efficiently, but he doesn't stifle his employees."
Shea said he knows when to get out of the way.
"Any president who thinks he's got a monopoly on good ideas is probably a short-term president," said Shea, 64.
His status as only the second president at HCC since the college opened almost 50 years ago is a "big tribute to the man himself," said Art Callaham, chairman of the Greater Hagerstown Committee, of which Shea is a founding member.
His tenure at HCC speaks volumes about Shea's leadership abilities and devotion to seeing his vision through, said Callaham, an adjunct professor at HCC who first met Shea in 1986.
That vision centered upon strengthening the link between the college and the community, and developing HCC's technological, work force training and continuing education programs, Shea said.
Founding HCC President Atlee Kepler had built a strong foundation from which his successor could take the college to the next level, Shea said.
Kepler felt positive about handing Shea the college's reins after their first meeting, he said.
"He asked the right questions. He was interested in the development of the institution," Kepler said. "Generally speaking, I thought his philosophy was compatible with mine. He wanted to build the institution and do things right for the students."
Kepler declined Shea's offer of an office on campus because he wanted to give Shea enough room to forge his own identity at HCC, he said.
Shea started by becoming the college's ambassador in the community, joining various organizations to learn how HCC could better meet business and service needs in the region, he said.
He gathered a diverse group of people to devise strategies to better the community as a whole, modeling the Washington County Area Progress Committee - now the Greater Hagerstown Committee - after a similar organization in Pittsburgh, near where Shea headed Westmoreland County Community College before coming to Hagerstown.
Shea's continuing involvement in the community has included work with the Hagerstown Regional Airport Commission, San Mar Children's Home, Downtown Rotary Club and the Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation, known as CHIEF.
In part through his work in the community and from tracking educational trends in trade journals, Shea saw the need for HCC to embrace the technological revolution, offer more continuing education courses, and partner with area businesses to expand work force training programs, he said.
"The guy had a vision for this college to be a real hub of community development. He never lost that vision. He's stuck with it for 16 years," said Michael Parsons, sociology professor and former dean of instruction at HCC.
Shea considers HCC's capital building program the greatest accomplishment during his time as president there, he said, because the expansion has "allowed this college to do things we could only have dreamed of years before."
The college's square footage has nearly doubled during Shea's tenure.