Professor Flanagan, who received an honorary doctorate in engineering from the University of East London at a ceremony at ExCeL London on Thursday 25 November, said he wanted to create a bridge that any student could emulate.
And he laid out his blueprint.
He said, "The foundation of my bridge is a strong belief in the value of education and research. The span is the ability for the education system - on one hand to produce tomorrow's leaders; and on the other to offer an education that is relevant to the industry it serves.
"The 'traffic' across this bridge to the future is the people who succeed in their chosen field and reach their potential in industry, or those who remain in academia to teach future industry employees and leaders, and who undertake research to help to solve problems and produce new materials and products for the future."
Professor Flanagan began his academic career at Aston University following work in the construction industry. He is a Professor at the University of Reading, where he has been Dean of Faculty and Head of School. He is a visiting professor at the University of East London.
He is well known in the engineering and construction sector around the world, working for, among others, the United Nations, the World Bank and numerous governments.
He said he strongly believed that students should understand the real world of construction; an industry that presented many challenges and rewards.
Reflecting on his own life-long journey, Professor Flanagan told his audience, "I feel very humbled. I'm not a footballer, I'm not famous, I'm not an Olympic champion or TV personality or whatever, I'm the son of a bricklayer who came from Ireland.
"Education changed my life and my perspective on the world. The future is in your hands and you'll get out of life what you put into it and you can make a difference.
"Background doesn't matter. Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It's the courage to continue that counts."
He told students, "Go out and live your dreams and always be optimistic. Pessimists see difficulty in every opportunity, the optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty. But the most important thing is to have fun."